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Canada's National Adaptation Strategy Symposium

Updated: Jun 13, 2022


(Source: City of Abbotsford, 2021)

This blog post lays out key issues that were mentioned throughout the National Adaptation Strategy Symposium held on May 16th, including incorporation Indigenous knowledge systems into our adaptation strategies, inter-provincial and territorial cooperation, the need for climate data, general financing, and the importance of the impact of climate change on health.


 

Summary:

  • The Government of Canada is in the process of creating its first National Adaptation Strategy. The Government explains the strategy as, "an opportunity to unite all orders of government through shared priorities, cohesive action, and a whole-of-society approach. The Strategy will include a national monitoring and evaluation system to measure progress and deliver outcomes for increased collaboration toward a safer and more resilient future".

  • The symposium was part of phase II of the process which seeks broader public, partner and expert input on specific measurable and achievable action.

  • The strategy is expected to be finished by the end of 2022

  • The interactive consultation website letstalkadaptation.ca was announced during the symposium. Canadians are encouraged to share their stories or experiences related to climate change.

The Symposium on Canada's National Adaptation Strategy

This past May 16th over a thousand Canadians attended the National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) Symposium held as part of the public engagement phase of the development of the strategy.

The Government of Canada first committed to taking action on climate change in December of 2020, a commitment which was reaffirmed at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.

US Special Envoy on Climate, John Kerry, and Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, at COP26 in Glasgow. (Source: CBC, 2022)


As the Government of Canada’s official website states:

“the Strategy will outline how the Canadian economy and society can be more resilient and prepared for the impacts of climate change. It will strengthen and change the way we improve health outcomes, build and maintain infrastructure, steward the environment, support a strong economy, and reduce the risk of climate-related disasters.”

According to the NAS website, it will engage all orders of government through shared priorities, cohesive actions, a whole-of-society approach, and will include a national monitoring and evaluation system to measure progress and deliver outcomes for a more resilient future. The strategy will be developed with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, Indigenous peoples, and other key partners.

The strategy will focus on 5 key themes; Health and Well-Being, Resilient Built and Natural Infrastructure, Strong and Resilient Economy, Thriving Natural Environment, and Disaster Resilience and Security.


Development phases and steps as outlined by the Government of Canada (Source: Environment Canada, 2022)

The symposium was comprised of four different panel meetings:

  1. Climate Action and Opportunities: Across Orders of Government;

  2. Climate Action and Opportunities: Key Partners and Stakeholders;

  3. Climate Science on Adaptation;

  4. Developing the National Adaptation Strategy: How Partners, Stakeholders and Adaptation Experts can Contribute which featured the Advisory Table Co-Chairs.

Key themes:

Each panel included representatives that spoke to the five key priority areas. Following is a synthesis of selected themes that emerged throughout the afternoon.

The need to integrate Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) in the NAS. This theme came up in many conversations but was perhaps most urgently expressed by Yukon Regional Chief from the Assembly of the First Nations Kluane Adamek who stressed the importance of not simply giving lip service to Indigenous knowledge but understanding that it is an altogether different worldview that we must genuinely listen to and learn from. As Chief Adamek expressed, status quo adaptation measures are not sufficient from the First Nation worldview and Canada must step up its efforts. As executive director of Nature Canada Graeme Saul reinforced, we must operationalize the profound teachings of First Nations and reexamine our relationship to the land.


The need for provincial and territorial intergovernmental cooperation. As the Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Emergency Preparedness pointed out governments are often siloed in how they approach events, yet events are more often than not connected. Climate change’s effects on agriculture, fisheries and oceans, and transport for example, are not divided by borders and therefore governments must work together to increase mitigation and adaptation efforts.


The need for climate data, and therefore the need for investment in such data. Chris Bolvin of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities included this in his four recommendations for the NAS, alongside integrating climate risk into public sector decision-making, an integral recommendation which will be bolstered by the availability and inter- provincial and territorial sharing of climate data.


The need for adequate financing. Ehren Cory of the Canada Infrastructure Bank stressed “our needs exceed our capacity to pay”, and we must bridge public and private investments and create innovative financing arrangements for paybacks and returns on investments. This sentiment was expressed as well in the need to urgently scale up investments in public infrastructure.


Climate change will be the greatest threat to health in the 20th century, President of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment Dr. Melissa Lem emphasized. Health and wellbeing proved quite inter-thematic in its discourse, but key takeaways include:

  • The costs to health are increasing and could be as high as $100B by 2050

  • We have a need to move beyond GDP to a more accurate measure of the quality of life of our people

  • Health framing has proven to be more impactful than economic framing when it comes to public understanding on climate change

Impressions:


The NAS Symposium brought critical and intelligent voices from across Canada and from different backgrounds into the adaptation conversation and began to address many of the issues that Canada must confront to create an intelligent national adaptation strategy. Still, there is much that needs to be addressed. Displacement was almost entirely absent from the discussion. Indeed, it was only referenced in Elder Lorraine Netro’s opening prayer in which she mentioned that extreme weather is displacing “brothers and sisters as we speak” and those who were displaced from the fires of B.C. last year are still trying to recover. Elder Netro’s prayer was an urgent call for action now.


So, where does displacement fit in the National Adaptation Strategy?


"In reality, it should be present in all parts of the plan, said Alison Shaw, Executive Director of the Action on Climate Team at Simon Fraser University pointed out to CDPI after the symposium.


After the event of 2021 in BC, especially the decimation of the Town of Lytton, it is abundantly clear that decisions made from today onwards must anticipate and respond to climate change.


Advancing resilience under rapidly changing conditions requires that all leaders and decision-makers renew their decision calculus to include avoiding losses and climate displacements over time, reducing emissions, and only supporting decisions that advance co-benefits toward resilience and sustainability. These three additional criteria need to be mainstreamed into every policy, program, and project.


As she told us:

“displacement is not something ‘out there’, the vulnerabilities are already being exposed within our communities. Best practices related to more inclusive and adaptive governance, practical and effective resilience metrics, and iterative approaches are required now not only to protect our communities from the stark reality of climate changes, but to, if done well, transition us toward a more sustainable future."

Other questions about Canada’s adaptation strategy remain unanswered. While attendants of the symposium called for adequate funding, no announcements about where funding would come from, its financial priorities, nor the financial collaborations that will take place were made.


The ways in which Indigenous knowledge systems will actually be integrated into adaptation strategies remain a bold question mark. Reconciliation and addressing inequity were absent from the conversation altogether. Some conversations, such as applying adaptation in planning, statements about updating infrastructure, or utilizing monitoring and analysis measures have been ongoing for a decade, so what will the NAS really bring to the table to operationalize these priorities?

"Some of the many regional climate change impacts that people in Canada are already facing", (Source: Environment Canada, 2022)


Canada must adapt to our inevitably warmer future. Many of the voices in the symposium expressed the desire that Canada be a model for the world for adaptation efforts. How we therefore resolve the question marks and operationalize our collective knowledge is the next crucial step to ensure a stable future.


Next Steps


At the close of the symposium, the hosts premiered an online public engagement forum for Canadians to share their stories on climate change in their communities and ideas for short-term actions. The forum can be found at: https://letstalkadaptation.ca/ and will be open until July 15th, 2022.


CDPI is eager to see how Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy will evolve to make sure our future generations do not “only have stories”, as Elder Netro warned in her opening prayer.

Written by Macey Cohen with editorial support from George Benson and Alison Shaw. Special thanks to Angela Danyluk.


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