As the federal election approaches, opinion polls have consistently reflected the growing concern of Canadians about the threat of global warming. It is no wonder.
A recent United Nations study on global warming, carried out by a team of top international scientists, provided the latest evidence of floods, fires and droughts that are destroying communities and habitats on all continents. The report’s stark conclusion is that unwavering political will and massive societal change is needed – now – if we are to hope to sustain life as we know it.
Relentless headlines have documented how the sheer existential threat of climate change is no longer a peril for a future time. To consider:
- Warmer oceans create monster hurricanes that unleash unprecedented destruction.
- Raging forest fires are charring huge swathes of the Earth’s surface. In June, a day after the mercury in Lytton, British Columbia, rose to 49.6 Â° C, the highest temperature on record in Canada, a forest fire completely wiped out the city.
- As the athletes struggled in the fierce heat at the Tokyo Olympics, some events were rescheduled for early morning starts or took place hundreds of miles north in search of cooler conditions.
- From Germany to Tennessee via China, powerful floods are increasingly devastating communities on all continents.
- Record heat and drought are killing humans and livestock, destroying ocean fisheries, cooking the agricultural crops that feed us.
Growing public concern gives senior governments the space to pass legislation that increases carbon taxes, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and targets fossil fuel use.
But societal changes are also happening locally, and in the Niagara region of southern Ontario, a group of communities concerned with protecting their residents are taking matters into their own hands, partnering with a local university to create strategies to deal with the wrath of warming globalization.
In this collaborative approach, researchers at Brock University are working alongside staff, politicians and residents of seven cities where extreme weather has hit homes, businesses and public infrastructure.
Municipalities – Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Grimsby, Welland, Lincoln and Pelham – are home to hundreds of thousands of residents as well as essential transportation corridors, prime farmland, tourist destinations economically important and the heart of Ontario’s $ 4 billion grape and wine industry.
Located in the middle of the Great Lakes Basin, the Niagara region has always been home to sticky humidity and summer thunderstorms. In recent years, however, the combination of rising lake levels, intense heat and increasingly severe storms has contributed to torrential rains and strong wave action that pounding buildings, flooding sub -soils and destroy roads, beaches and backyards.
Over the past five years, extreme weather conditions along the shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie have caused millions of dollars in damage; a severe storm in 2019 led the city of Lincoln to issue its first-ever voluntary evacuation notice.
Soon after, Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Center (ESRC), which prioritizes community partnerships, launched a program called Niagara Adapts, where municipalities work with scientists and researchers to create climate change adaptation plans for these cities.
The offer has appealed to smaller or rural communities without the staff or resources to develop their own global warming strategies, but large cities like St. Catharines and Niagara Falls are also participating.
Climate change adaptation strategies for municipalities include modifying sewers and drainage to withstand storm surges and prevent flooding; modify building codes and planning guidelines to limit development in areas prone to flooding; or have a plan to maintain essential transit and emergency services in the event of an extreme weather event.
But involving the whole community is essential. Residents, government officials and scientists need to be able to fully understand a municipality’s vulnerability to climate change – how it can be damaged – before an effective adaptation plan can be developed. Education and public participation are essential to the success of any climate action.
Thus, the Niagara Adapts program ensures that all interested citizens have a voice in shaping their city’s strategies. Residents and city officials participated in public forums and online surveys. City staff and Brock researchers conducted vulnerability studies to assess each community’s most pressing risks, then customized a climate change adaptation action plan that is submitted to city council for approval. (In November 2019, the partnership hosted a sold-out screening of a climate change documentary attended by then-Brock President Gervan Fearon and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton.)
It is crucial to go beyond government officials and scientists and involve locals. Niagara Adapts raises awareness of sustainability and lifestyle changes that reduce carbon footprints, and inspires everyone to actively take action to deal with the impacts of global warming. All over a community, people can have a 72-hour emergency kit ready at all times, make homes as flood-ready as possible, or check their property to plant trees that will provide shade in the scorching sun.
Problems are a priority for residents. Surveys conducted across Niagara reveal deep public concern over the threat of climate change and overwhelming support for investing resources in emergency efforts – where 85 percent of respondents indicated support for the use of municipal resources for adaptation to climate change.
The participating municipalities are enthusiastic about working with each other and with the university.
âHaving the opportunity to customize a climate adaptation plan, using the knowledge and experience of real experts in their fields, is not an opportunity to be passed up,â said James Sticca, director of environmental services at the city ââof Niagara Falls. âWe are seeing an increase in the intensity of the rain, as well as prolonged days of intense heat. So looking for ways to adapt current practices is an important part of building our community.
âBeing able to collaborate with colleagues in the Niagara region, in addition to the guidance and leadership provided by the Brock ESRC team, has been invaluable.
In historic Niagara-on-the-Lake, which suffered extensive erosion damage on waterfront properties and recreational trails, Lauren Kruitbosch, the town’s community engagement coordinator, said that the Niagara Adapts initiative was âa great solutionâ.
âThis closely matches our goals for the future of our sustainability,â said Kruitbosch. âWe want to be a leader on climate change, and working with other municipalities in Niagara is important because there is strength in unity.
Olivia Groff, Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator for the City of St. Catharines, said that as climate change affects and restricts residents’ leisure and lifestyle habits, the Niagara Adapts project has attracted more people in the discussion and revealed a wider range of community vulnerabilities.
âIt’s everyone’s problem,â Groff said. âIf everyone considers this challenge in their personal life and is part of the answer, then the whole community can become more resilient. “
In the city of Lincoln, climate change coordinator Shannon Fernandes said one of the most valuable findings came from the vulnerability survey which allowed residents to voice their concerns and help shape the of the climate change strategy.
âThe survey results provided essential information on how people experience climate change as well as their potential ability to adapt,â Fernandes said. “This data has informed the climate change adaptation planning process and has shown that Lincoln residents want to take action on climate change.”
Currently, three of the seven participating municipalities have completed climate strategies and are now in the process of implementing their plans. The remaining partners plan to complete the process before the end of the year.
Speaking as one of the academics on this project, it has been gratifying to help our municipal colleagues leverage their close ties with residents, community organizations and businesses to build climate awareness, to support climate action and develop collaborative and contextualized responses to climate change. cash.
Building community partnerships is a central priority at the Brock ESRC, and it is important that academic institutions recognize and embrace more community work like this. Municipalities are an essential, but often neglected, actor in adaptation to climate change.
The role of sustainable development scientists should be to engage in innovative research oriented towards solutions that meet the challenges of our communities. Hopefully this partnership illustrates this kind of work.