According to “PAS Report 600: Planning for Urban Heat Resilience,” released in April 2022 by the American Planning Association (APA), urban regions need to develop a framework to build resilience against rising temperatures due to climate change. Although the APA report focuses heavily on the United States, the findings can be appreciated within the context of North America. With more than half of all Indigenous people in Canada living in towns and cities with a population of 30,000 and more, the threat of increasing heat is not simply an urban issue, it is an Indigenous issue.

The APA report defines urban heat resilience as the ability of urban systems “to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions and improve quality life in the face of chronic and acute health risks and to quickly transform systems that limit current or future capacity to adapt to extreme heat.” The report lays out an urban heat resilience framework, based on scientific information, with “seven practical considerations” to facilitate planning for, monitoring, and measuring extreme heat events. The framework also calls for developing a “fact base of information on heat risks” and a robust collection of heat mitigation and heat management strategies.

Key components to urban heat resilience planning are heat mitigation strategies and heat management strategies. In the urban context, heat mitigation strategies focus on buildings and infrastructure and reducing the heat that they produce. Heat mitigation strategies often fall under the category of “urban greening” such as tree planting, urban forestry, and green storm water structures (e.g., bioswales, permeable pavements, etc). Urban heat management strategies enable cities to both prepare for and respond to immediate, recurrent, and long-term heat risks also associated with the built environment (e.g., renewable and reliable energy systems, indoor cooling). Heat management and heat mitigation strategies require the assistance of diverse experts, including planners, engineers, architects, urban designers, and public health professionals, among others.

Building urban heat resilience, and protecting the health of Indigenous peoples due to adverse climate effects require planning ahead, and taking leaps forward to “proactively” coordinate all parties to manage increasing heat. The Government of Canada has developed a list of tools and resources to help public health professionals develop approaches to reduce, the effect of urban heat islands. The First Nations Health Authority has put into place “heat response supports” to mitigate the adverse health effects of extreme heat on BC First Nations and to promote climate health. The Canadian Institute of Planners’ Policy on Climate Change Planning has recommended that planners “[b]e inclusive and respectful of Indigenous peoples, striving to promote understanding, validation, and respect of Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices to ensure decisions and interventions are culturally relevant and appropriate.”

The disastrous impacts of the record-breaking extreme heat of the summer of 2021, in the Western United States and Canada, shed light on the need for collective efforts to ensure that heat risks are managed more effectively. Planning for urban heat resilience requires a collective and culturally informed approach.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Berkay Gumustekin, Unsplash)

Climate maladaptation is defined as the unintended negative results of adaptation policies and decisions. Maladaptation cuts across social and geographic boundaries as well as time.

In 2013, researchers Jon Barnett and Saffron J. O’Neill developed a framework for maladaptation, and categorized the phenomenon into five types:

  • Increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Disproportionately burdening the most vulnerable.
  • High opportunity costs.
  • Reduce incentives to adapt.
  • Path dependency.

Actions that burden the most vulnerable carry the highest climate risk. Furthermore, institutions and organizations that are path-dependent to address climate change slow down climate adaptation and associated decision making processes.

According to the 2022 IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report: “adaptation planning and implementation that do not consider adverse outcomes for different groups can lead to maladaptation, increasing exposures to risks, marginalising people from certain socio-economic or livelihood groups, and exacerbating inequity.”

Preventative measures against maladaptation must be undertaken. Exchanging mutual learning and knowledge gained from assessments about what works and what does not in environmental monitoring and decision-making may help to prevent maladaptation. Furthermore, “blueprint approaches” to climate adaptation that lack an understanding of the details regarding the vulnerability and social inequities of a context, and that minimize engagement, should be avoided.

Poor climate leadership is a primary culprit of maladaptation, and governance practices in climate adaptation need more scrutiny. Climate equity and justice must be prioritized while “inclusive planning initiatives informed by cultural values, Indigenous knowledge, and scientific knowledge” can further prevent climate maladaptation.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Jezael Melgoza, Unsplash)

Climate change reflects a “shifting rhythm of nature.” Government-sponsored high-resolution maps, scientific studies about the impacts of global warming, and witness accounts by Indigenous elders offer evidence of changing seasons due to climate change.

A key sign of how seasons are shifting is the increase in global temperatures. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth’s “combined land and ocean temperature has increased” at an average rate of 0.18 degrees Celsius per decade since 1981. The 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming produced the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, to limit global warming. In 2021, global warming was a key topic for discussion at the COP26 conference where global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were highlighted.

More evidence of changing seasons is noted by shifts in plant hardiness zones. A plant hardiness zone is a specified geographic area with a certain range of annual minimum temperatures which are vital for plants to survive. Maps of plant hardiness zones in Canada and the United States are showing that the zones are creeping northward over time. This shift can have an impact on the length of the growing season, rapid adjustments to agricultural practices and to farmers’ crops, and access to food year-round. In turn, urban agriculture projects and residential gardens are also affected.

Even a slight increase in temperature has an impact on the start of each season. For example, spring thaw happens earlier and pushes the onset of the first frost. Ultimately “winters are shorter, spring is earlier, summers are longer, and fall arrives earlier.” The phenomenon of “false spring” is also witnessed in North America, more frequently in recent years than in previous decades. False spring happens when temperatures rise suddenly and cause plants and trees to bud and bloom too early, making them vulnerable to the still-present risk of frost. A report by the US-based National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA), from almost 20 years ago, had signaled that “regional thawing trends” in North America were “advancing almost one day a year since 1988,” and “[had] the potential to alter the cycle of atmospheric carbon dioxide intake and release by vegetation and soils across the region, potentially resulting in changes in Earth’s climate” and reflects current phenomena.

Changing seasons in Northern communities reveal how earlier spring thaws trigger permafrost thaw and sea ice retreat and ultimately, coastal erosion. When permafrost thaws, the ground becomes permeable and the ensuing degradation has destructive impacts on infrastructure, such as on roads and buildings, and on sustainable development efforts too. Furthermore, while engineering solutions to these problems exist, they are also costly.

Coproducing knowledge with Indigenous communities can offer crucial insights, not always shown in high-resolution maps of coastal erosion, of permafrost degradation, and of the progression of spring thaws over time. Documenting the experiences of Indigenous elders who witness climate change will also help to paint a clearer picture of the impact of changing seasons on plants and wildlife.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit – Freestocks, Unsplash)

According to the 2022 UNEP’s Frontiers Report, the regime of wildfires affecting Earth’s ecosystems is changing.  The changes are due to increases in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the atmosphere, changes in land use, and other human activities.

Wildfires are uncontrolled fires that burn in vegetation. While some fires are naturally occurring, other fires are started by humans as a land management practice, to clear land for human settlements, deforestation, resource extraction, and agricultural use, all of which interfere with the natural occurrence of fires. Fire regimes involve three factors: the severity and intensity of a fire, the frequency of a fire, and the time of year or season of the fire.

Extreme weather events are also contributing to shifts in fire regimes, and global warming influences longer fire seasons. For example, monitoring conducted by Natural Resources Canada indicates that with drier conditions expected in the years ahead, there will be a “1.5-fold increase in the number of large fires by the end of the 21st century.”

While providing valuable information on the ecology of wildfires, the 2022 UNEP Frontier’s Report highlights the importance of developing a “system and whole-of-landscape approach” to fire and land management that draws from Indigenous cultural and ecological knowledge to manage wildfires. Indigenous Fire Stewardship (IFS) and Indigenous fire management practices in the fire-prone savannahs of North Australia, Brazil, and Botswana are a few approaches that have been proven to be effective in managing the changing regime of wildfires.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Joanne Francis, Unsplash)

Experiencing four distinct seasons is a powerful way to tell time. Each season brings with it an element of life and death and teaches us to embrace change.  Many of us think of the seasons in terms of what we wear or how the weather affects our commute; however, how many of us stop to think about how the seasons affect our diet and medicines?

Increasingly, we buy our medicines and our food from grocery stores. When we walk into a store and find all that we need, it becomes difficult to notice the true impact of the seasons on what we eat and how we feel. As science progresses, technology continues to fuel the advancement of hybrid seeds resistant to Mother Nature’s woes. Technology supports farming machinery to achieve greater yields of large-scale crops, ensuring the things we enjoy consuming are constantly available on store shelves.  The convenience of shopping disconnects us from the spirit of our food, and ultimately distracts us from the stories that Mother Nature is telling us, especially through her gifts of the changing seasons.

When does winter truly end? How long is spring, really? What if we let go of the idea that the answers to these questions come from a calendar, and instead, turn our collective gaze toward nature? Consider that winter ends when the Red Squirrel awakens and begins to nibble Maple Tree’s stems, signalling the maple sap to begin to flow. Spring arrives when coltsfoot pops out its mysterious yellow flower before its signature leaves arrive. Trilliums and trout lilies tell us how long we have until spring disappears. And as soon as it gets too warm, we learn that summer has arrived. Raspberries emerge telling us summer is ending and it is time to load up on fat stores with Wintergreen signalling our last chance at berries before the deep snow arrives. All these plants are also gifts of Mother Nature and were once received as wild foods and wild medicines, by human beings.

When one remembers what to eat, in what season, and by what is available in nature, then one also begins to see the changes in what Mother Nature can offer as weather patterns shift. To truly understand the weather and the climate, one must return to nature. When one grows a garden and watches peas whither in the early spring heat, or the squash shrivel due to drought, or apple blossoms bloom too early, only to be killed by frost; when one mourns another season without fruit, one can no longer remove oneself from Mother Nature’s narrative.

As someone who gardens and forages, I feel a deep connection to the seasons and all their changes. I may not fully understand the magnitude of the impact of the seasons, but I feel the struggles of Mother Nature; she reminds me of my connection to her well-being. For me, the way I understand how I can be of service to healing the Earth means to first to live with and through Mother Nature’s cycles; to experience her cycles with all my senses; and to accept that to re-learn her ways, I must get away from the fluorescent lights and the straight, cropped garden rows, and bear witness to the messages found throughout the forest landscape.

I invite you to choose to get familiar with food and medicines that are in season and to embrace the cycle of seasonal changes. Then, and only then, can we truly remember how to love Mother Nature and steward the land in ways that can help us heal the planet and humanity.

Edible wild evening primrose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tawny Stowe

 

Photo Credits:

Edible wild evening primrose photo: Tawny Stowe

Header Photo: Karl Heinz Muller, Unsplash

Study after study has highlighted how climate change affects women and girls more adversely, and in different ways, than it affects men and boys. Fewer studies, however, explore the impact of climate change on gender roles. Furthermore, approaches to climate adaptation need to better reflect the growing potential for changes to traditional gender roles due to climate change.

Climate adaptation “refers to actions that reduce the negative impact of climate change, while taking advantage of potential new opportunities.” Adaptation planning can help in managing the impacts of climate change on gender roles in Indigenous communities while shifting away from victimizing Indigenous populations. Instead the focus is on how “community assets and strengths could help to motivate and sustain climate action.” Incorporating a gender-responsive approach to climate adaptation would offer insights into how Indigenous communities are adapting traditional gender roles to climate change, and possibly shifting them in new ways.

An analysis of food systems and food insecurity is one place to start when considering climate adaptation and gender roles. An example of adapting women’s traditional roles in food preparation with community-based education and economic sustainability is the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization (ICEDO) educational program and training facility centred on country food processing. The ICEDO courses teach aspects of “value-added processing” of country foods, including char, muskox, and moose, to show how to make the best use of “portions of meat that are often discarded” and instructs participants in developing “the knowledge and skills required to maximize the commercial viability” of these foods. These educational programs address food insecurity which is especially prevalent in Arctic communities due to the effects of climate change, including earlier melting of winter snowfall.

The call for gender-sensitive responses to the effects of climate change is not new. However, when gender is considered in relation to climate change adaptation and Indigenous peoples, as in the previous example, it remains focused heavily on normative gender binaries, of male and female, and traditional gender roles held by men and women. Experiences of discrimination of people who identify as being from 2SLGBTQQIA+ populations, often prevent them from accessing the supports that could assist them to manage adverse climate effects, including health impacts.

A gender-responsive approach to climate change adaptation would be a step beyond gender-sensitivity, and could more effectively include gender diversity and appreciate the impact of climate change on changing gender roles. A gender-responsive approach would hold the potential to break through conventional approaches to gender analysis that are limited by gender binaries and could recognize how different people experience the impacts of climate change in diverse ways. In turn, services and supports could be designed with a better understanding of the answers to “who matters, who decides, and who benefits” while recognizing people in the way that they want to be recognized. More research is needed to better appreciate and understanding the impact of climate change on gender and changing gender roles due to the impacts of climate change.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Ives Ives, Unsplash)

Health Canada released the Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action report in February 2022. Drawing connections between climate change and health, the report explores, in detail, seven key risks of climate change affecting the health of Canadians. Chapter 2 focuses on the impact of these climate change risks on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

The seven risks of climate change affecting the health of Indigenous peoples, as examined in the report, are:

  • Natural hazards
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Air quality
  • Food safety and security
  • Water quality, safety, and security
  • Infectious diseases
  • Health systems

When examining each risk, the report also provides examples of how Indigenous communities are addressing these risks through their communities’ own planning and climate mitigation efforts. In the coming months, the Indigenous Climate Hub Blog will draw from the report and explore each of these risks for their impacts on the health of Indigenous peoples.

According to the report, the limitations to the data, and therefore the prevalence of uncertainty regarding the connections between climate change and health, are associated with the “amount of existing evidence,” and the quality of that evidence. The intention of the Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate (2022) report is to facilitate the development of more “integrated knowledge” to enable federal, provincial, and local governments to “prepare for climate change.” How Indigenous governments benefit from this report will be worth considering as well.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Biegun Wschodni, Unsplash)

Background

Are you interested in monitoring and documenting the effects of climate change in your community? Would you like to connect with and learn from other communities taking on similar projects? If so, look no further – the Indigenous Climate Monitoring Toolkit is a brand new resource created by Indigenous communities, for Indigenous communities.

Climate change is impacting Indigenous communities and ways of life across the country. Concerns range from food security and health impacts to issues with transportation, infrastructure damage from wildfires, flooding, permafrost degradation, and coastal erosion.

The Toolkit was developed to support Indigenous Peoples in Canada with planning, implementing, or expanding community-based climate monitoring projects. Communities use the data and knowledge collected to inform their adaptation planning and other decision-making.

Stories

The Toolkit includes stories shared through the eyes of those leading community-based monitoring projects, providing inspiration and guidance in hopes of encouraging others to pursue their own initiatives. Here are summaries of some of the stories to date:

Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation’s Wakâ Mne – Science and Culture Initiative

Does your community want to set up its own climate monitoring station? Click on Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation’s story to learn about their initiative to monitor climate, water quality, and greenhouse gas fluxes. Also, read about their efforts to document, archive, and share traditional knowledge to empower Indigenous culture to inform future strategies aimed at climate change adaptation and mitigation. Check out their informative video series and guides on setting up a climate station.

Young Hunters Program and Climate Monitoring

Are you interested in learning how to engage youth in climate monitoring? Click on the Aqqiumavvik Society’s story to learn about their Young Hunters Program. This food security initiative aims to teach kids traditional hunting practices and Inuit values and beliefs around environmental stewardship. More recently, it has incorporated monitoring aspects such as tracking changes to animals, weather, and the environment. Participants in the program gain skills and knowledge through time spent with experienced Elders and instructors by engaging in local hunting and monitoring activities. Check out their Young Hunters Manual to learn more about their program and their Community Climate Change Manual to help you implement climate change initiatives within your community.

Dehcho AAROM: Indigenous-led Monitoring and Stewardship

Are you concerned about the impacts of climate change on water quality and fish? Click on Dehcho First Nations’ story to learn how their Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management (AAROM) Program has created a regionally administered, community-based monitoring initiative. This story covers the importance of partnerships to increase funding opportunities and capacity, practical tips on data management and field work, and the opportunities and benefits of developing a successful community-based monitoring program. Check out their hands-on case studies and water quality monitoring videos.

Discover More

Beyond providing you with stories from leading community-based monitoring projects, the Toolkit provides an easy to navigate Resources tab equipping you with links to key resources related to climate monitoring and adaptation, as well as a Steps tab with step-by-step guidance to plan, design, and implement your project.

In addition, check out the interactive map to see some of the Indigenous-led climate monitoring related projects that have taken place or are ongoing across Canada.

Visit the Toolkit today to get inspired, start your own project journey, or share your own story and resources with your peers.

 

By First Peoples Group and the Indigenous Community-Based Climate Monitoring Program at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada

 

(Photo credit – header photo: Lesly Derksen, Unsplash)

Indigenous-owned solar energy projects are contributing to meeting a net-zero carbon emission target while building the self-sufficiency of their communities. Becoming energy sovereign, requires a community to build their “ability… to control, regulate and manage their own energy.”  Solar power is among the cheapest forms of renewable energy and the Pembina Institute reports that from 2015 to 2020, renewable energy projects in Canada, nearly doubled across remote communities.

Launched on November 17, 2020, the 2.2-megawatt (MW) Three Nation energy (3NE) solar farm in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, is owned by Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Fort Chipewyan Métis Association. It is reported that the 3NE solar farm and ATCO’s 600-kilowatt (KW) solar farm and “a battery storage system will reduce the need for more than 800,000 litres of diesel fuel each year.” Together, these solar projects are “the largest remote solar farm in Canada” found northwest of the Alberta’s oil sands.

With the Arctic warming three times faster than the rest of the planet, Inuit communities have become leaders in tackling climate change by engaging in renewable energy projects, including harnessing solar power. Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation located in Yukon,  is one of the first Indigenous communities in Canada to declare a climate emergency. The community has set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emission by 2030, which is 20 years ahead of the Canadian federal government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emission by 2050. The Old Crow Solar Project of Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation consists of 2,160 solar panels to maximize the capture of the sun’s rays during long summer days. Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation holds a 25-year electricity purchase agreement with ATCO Electric Yukon. The energy that is generated by the Old Crow Solar Project will be bought at a similar cost to diesel. According to Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation., over $410,000 is returned to the community through the electricity purchase agreement, and can then be reinvested in additional renewable energy projects.

More examples of First Nation communities who are leaders in generating solar power and who are actively contributing to the effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions include:

More solar projects are in the works in British Columbia, including a new solar project on the Upper Nicola Band Reserve in collaboration with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and FortisBC.

Through their diverse solar energy projects contribute, Indigenous peoples are minimizing their communities’ dependency on fossil fuels, especially diesel, while becoming energy sovereign.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Nuno Marques, Unsplash)

A recent study by researchers at the University of Waterloo examines flood risk as a climate change effect and its complex connection to socio-economic and population factors (or “social vulnerability”) in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada. The study concludes that while the percentage of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residences exposed to flood hazards is roughly the same, the numerous challenges facing Indigenous communities, as an impact of land dispossession and colonization, means “the overall risk of Indigenous communities is higher.”

The peer-reviewed study compares “flood risk between Indigenous communities on 985 reserve lands and other Canadian communities across 3701 census subdivisions” and integrates an analysis of “socio-economic, demographic, ethnic, and cultural characteristics.” Eighty-one percent of the Indigenous communities in the study were exposed to flood hazards which would impact either their land and residences or the overall population.

Typically, flood hazards are categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary. Primary hazards are associated with flooding where there is direct contact with water (e.g., erosion of soil, buildings, and other infrastructure; water damage to buildings; flooding of farmlands resulting in crop loss; human and animal drownings). Secondary flood hazards are the result of the primary hazards and can include toxic pollutants released by garbage and backed-up debris in sewage drains (i.e., the debris being a primary effect), as well as numerous health effects and service disruptions. Tertiary flood hazards are the long-term effects of primary and secondary flood hazards.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo credit: Justin Wilkens, Unsplash)