The Power of Natural Capital

Adapting to the impacts of climate change requires a “systems thinking” approach. This is especially true given the non-linear nature of these impacts. Over the last two years, the IRTC (Interlake Reserves Tribal Council) climate project has reported on how these impacts have caused displacement and continue to threaten sources of livelihoods. While adaptation strategies have been largely focused on infrastructure engineered solutions, nature-based solutions (NBS) provide a more sustainable approach to combating the threat of climate change.

Benefits

These natural capital – including peatlands, forests, mangroves, wetlands, savannahs, coral reefs and other landscapes – can provide a wide range environmental, economic, and social benefits, when projects are developed (or co-developed) and led by First Nations. For instance, without mangroves, it has been estimated that more than 18 million people worldwide would experience coastal flooding. Furthermore, the First Nations carbon collaborative further gives an insight into the opportunities and challenges that NBS presents.

Using the power of natural capital, NBS can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in adaptation efforts. This process involves restoring, protecting, and managing ecosystems that are critical in the prevention of biodiversity loss. The International Union for Conservation of Nature describes NBS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

In addition to the primary benefit, NBS provides a wide range of co-benefits. For example, deploying NBS in flood management can reduce flood risk, improve water quality, and aid in nutrients sequestration. Engineered solutions (dykes, floodwalls, and levees, for instance), on the other hand, provide a single benefit and often require long term maintenance.

Within our communities, discussions on nature-based solutions are happening. These discussion stem from our stewardship laws and principles – principles that have been passed down from generation to generation.

These guiding principles include making offerings to the land when hunting or gathering plants and harvesting only the necessary quantities of resources to avoid depletion and improve conservation efforts.

Within the context of our lived reality, NBS can complement more traditional engineered solutions, according to community members. Due to its potential benefits, community members have expressed the need to advance NBS around the Interlake region. However, there are barriers to indigenous participation in NBS.

These barriers are rooted in the systemic exclusion of our communities in environmental governance and management – and underpins some of the environmental challenges we currently face.

Part of this, according to a 2018 report on indigenous led conversation, stems from the fact that: “Indigenous worldviews differ fundamentally from the philosophies that guide many Crown-protected areas, where conservation is achieved by restricting activities and limiting access. In Indigenous worldviews, conservation is achieved when the relationships and uses that have conserved the lands and waters for thousands of years remain intact or are re-established.”

Notwithstanding, conversations with community members suggests that these challenges can be surmounted. What, then, is the way forward? In part 2, we’ll explore some of these.

 

Blog by: IRTC (To learn more about IRTC, visit https://irtc.ca)

(Image Source: IRTC)

An appreciation of place is crucial to understanding the impact of climate change on the health of Indigenous peoples. A place-based understanding of climate change can help to recognize how changes in the environment effect physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual facets of both individual and community health and well-being.

The terms ‘place-focused’ and ‘place-based’ are used primarily by non-Indigenous governments, academics, and planning and design professionals. For example, the Government of Victoria, Australia has offered explanations for how they use both place-focused and place-based approaches in their work. Place-focused approaches involve highlighting a particular place to ensure that government-driven or other service-related plans cater to the characteristics and experiences of people living in a specific geographic area. By contrast, place-based approaches engage with people from a particular geographic area to bring meaning from their cultural and environmental contexts, histories, and practices, to develop solutions to problems, using a process of shared-decision making.

While land dispossession and other impacts of colonialism, and climate change effects continue to disrupt the attachment to place for many Indigenous communities, not all place attachments have been lost. Increasingly, Indigenous communities are engaging in their own community planning processes that could be considered by non-Indigenous planners as “place-based.” Examples of Indigenous-led community plans in Canada, that incorporate elements of culture, health, and well-being, include the Six Nations Community Plan and M’Chigeeng First Nation Comprehensive Community Plan, among others. By comparison, Canadian municipal official plans often exclude direct references to cultural and health factors; these become the content of supplementary plans and policy reports. However, place-based approaches to community planning and official plan processes are becoming more popular among local governments for reasons that often include climate change resilience.

The emotional and psychological health effects of climate change among Indigenous peoples around the world are largely understudied, however, the existing literature attributes these effects to “changes in place attachment, disrupted cultural continuity, altered food security and systems,” and other factors. For example, in the community of Nain, located in Northern Labrador, Canada, an “appreciation of place” is crucial to understanding how sea ice, and its uses by the Inuit, have a positive impact on Inuit mental health, even with the increase in physical injuries, and reduced access to their traditional environments, brought upon by climate change.

Focusing on the ongoing impact of the current combined pandemics of climate change and COVID-19, the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) program highlights a connection between the protection of key places for Indigenous foods and medicines in remote Indigenous communities in Uganda, the Peruvian Amazon and the Arctic ecosystem, and the protection of Indigenous knowledge, practices, and rights of Indigenous peoples to access their lands.

Place, climate change, and Indigenous health are connected. Together they reveal how different threats to Indigenous traditional environments negatively impact overall Indigenous health. Subsequently, the contributions made by Indigenous-led community plans to reduce climate health effects on Indigenous communities are also worth further exploration.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Erik McLean, Unsplash)

Adaptive capacity and adaptation are both crucial to addressing the impact of environmental change and degradation on the health and well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. After all, nurturing a connection with Mother Earth is fundamental to the well-being of humankind.

Indigenous peoples have tremendous adaptive capacity to health risks associated with climate and environmental changes. However, social and economic stressors such as “poverty, land dispossession and globalization” are proving to be major obstacles to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptive capacity as “[t]he ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences”. Adaptation involves an “adjustment in natural or human systems” as they respond to climate change, and then either manage the harm that is caused by the change, or exploit the benefits of the change.

Understanding how communities make decisions can enable more effective community responses to the health consequences of climate change, and potentially reduce risks for, as well as protect against, disease, injury, disability poor nutrition, and death, which are all possible health impacts of extreme weather events (e.g., floods, hurricanes, landslides, etc.). Therefore, to reduce health impacts and vulnerability of Indigenous communities to climate change, different strategies must consider socio-economic factors as well as environmental factors that ultimately influence a community’s ability and capacity to adapt.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Zdenek Machacek, Unsplash)

The Alberta provincial government has released draft flood maps meant to improve public safety, support emergency management, and help build safer and more resilient communities over the long term. Engagement opportunities are open for Albertans to provide feedback on new flood maps. Feedback will help ensure this work is technically sound. Share your thoughts on the draft flood maps by going to https://www.alberta.ca/flood-study-engagements.aspx by January 15, 2021.

The engagement for these studies is part of an initiative that developed 18 new provincial flood studies, covering over 1,500 kilometres of river through more than 60 municipalities and First Nations, including the five following First Nations:

New flood maps are available for many communities across Alberta. You do not need to be an engineer or flood expert to view or provide feedback. The Alberta provincial government will carefully consider all feedback received and will revise the draft reports and flood maps to address technical errors, as appropriate.

 

Information from: Government of Alberta, Ministry of Environment and Parks.

 

(Photo Credit: Joshua Woroniecki , Unsplash)

 

Prioritizing Indigenous rights and supporting innovative Indigenous practices are required to achieve a sustainable future and are crucial to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The race to meet SDG targets by Year 2030 is heavily focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs); however, globally, Indigenous communities are not responsible for these high levels of GHGs. Indigenous communities have been integral in the fight to reduce GHG emissions through innovative practices like traditional fire management. Yet, Indigenous peoples remain among the most affected by climate change and its impacts on a global scale, because of their interconnectedness with Mother Nature, the land, and all that it offers.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 calls for “ensuring the availability of sustainable water management and sanitation for all”; however, in Canada, for decades, many First Nation communities have gone without clean drinking water. Canada’s federal government has promised to ensure clean drinking water to all First Nation reserves by March 2021; however, there are now fears that this deadline will not be met.

Frustrated by government inaction in addressing the clean water crisis in their community, Lytton First Nation, (pop. 1,660 people) located in the Fraser Canyon, British Columbia, connected with RES’EAU-WaterNet, at the University of British Columbia. Together, they built the Lytton-Nickeyeah Creek Water Treatment facility in 2015, bringing clean water to the homes spread out over 56 reserves across 14,161 acres. The RES’EAU also worked in consultation with community members, leaders, and water operators at Lytton First Nation, to find a collaborative, creative, and affordable way to bring clean water to additional homes (some over 100 kms apart) that were too isolated to benefit from the larger treatment facility.

According to Alliance 2030, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the UN SDGs should be considered in concert with each other, if the 17 SDGs are to be met by 2030 and “achieve basic rights like clean water and equality for all.” The International Fund for Agricultural Development in their 2019 policy brief made several recommendations to advance collaborative policy solutions and to recognize Indigenous rights to land and intellectual property, in order to meet the SDGs.

Successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is based on the premise of “leave no-one behind”. Canada’s 2018 Voluntary National Review acknowledged that Indigenous peoples and other “historically marginalized groups…still face unacceptable barriers”. Any attempt by countries to involve Indigenous communities as partners in sustainable development may be a step forward to meet the 2030 Agenda; however, when the basic rights to education and clean water are not guaranteed for Indigenous peoples, these calls for collaboration must be questioned. Indigenous peoples at the forefront of sustainable development innovations and climate change adaptation in Canada have declared a climate emergency. Realizing the SDG goals requires non-Indigenous governments to prioritize the protection of Indigenous rights if they also seek the collaboration of Indigenous peoples.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image Credit: Carter Hildebrand, Unsplash)

How close is the world to meeting the challenge of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 on climate action? According to the UN report 2020 on SDGs “the world is way off track to meet the Paris Agreement target, signalling cataclysmic changes ahead.”

SDG 13 aims to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact” through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), while focusing on each member nation’s efforts to integrate the SDG 13 targets into their policies on climate change. The Paris Agreement builds upon the UNFCC, seeking “to limit global warming to 1.5C,” such that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions start to fall by 7.6% each year starting in 2020. SDG 13 is also considered alongside efforts to build more climate-resilient economies and societies as noted in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030.

GHG emissions declined worldwide at the onset of COVID-19; however, these emissions are expected to rise, as governments lift pandemic-related restrictions on people. In July 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that the world had no more than 6 months left to avert a climate crisis and to prevent a surge of GHG emissions. Without full commitment from governments worldwide, there is little hope to reverse the climate crisis. It will also be worth considering how SDG 13 and other SDGs are implicated in sustainable development efforts among Indigenous communities in Canada.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Denys Nevozhai)

Strong social networks play an important role in sustaining an Indigenous community’s resilience to climate change. The term social capital  is used to explain the ties that connect a community together through common identity, like kinship ties (i.e., bonding), and the ways in which one community builds a connection with another, beyond shared identity (i.e., bridging). Social capital is characterized by “levels of trust” and by how people are able to secure and transfer resources and benefits of social capital through their engagement with each other’s different social connections.

Social capital is enhanced by community resilience and is threatened by community vulnerabilities. However, communities experience both resilience and vulnerability to climate and environmental changes, simultaneously.  Vulnerability among Indigenous communities is created by processes that undermine Indigenous knowledge systems, that promote landscape fragmentation and land dispossession, and that threaten Indigenous rights and sovereignty, on top of the rapid pace of environmental change. In some Indigenous pastoral environments, as in arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya, gender, age, education, disability, are contributing factors to climate change vulnerability. Resilience is enhanced through connecting and learning from the land and exchanging knowledge about the land through social networks, especially in smaller communities.

As documented among Canada’s Northern Indigenous communities, when social networks are strong, there is less dependence on government policies and on infrastructure, to deal with the various “environmental stressors” associated with climate change. A criticism of Canadian policy is that it does not recognize differences between how Indigenous communities in Northern regions adapt to climate change compared to those communities located in Southern regions. Geographically isolated communities in Northern Canada depend heavily on social networks and traditional knowledge. Currently, social capital is not included in Canada’s overall policy approach to climate change adaptation. Government policy on climate change should incorporate factors like food security and resource distribution, which are key benefits of social networks.

Indigenous communities benefit from social capital through collective action to fight climate change. Collective action and is supported through acts of solidarity and practices of sharing and reciprocity. Sharing can include exchanges of food, offering shelter, different kinds of social support, and labour; it can also involve the sharing of risks. The impact of collective action varies in relation to power differences among group members or across different communities that work together. Collective action is affected by power relations in decision making, and so it may not always lead to community resilience. Ideally, collective action promotes flexibility, shared leadership, and exchanges of innovative adaptations to climate change.

How Indigenous communities draw from social networks to address the immediate impacts of climate change on their communities, and to adapt to climate change over time, needs further exploration. Ultimately, social capital is a crucial component to Indigenous climate change adaptation and it should be taken more seriously by climate change policy makers, in order to better understand and address, the vulnerability and the overall resilience of Indigenous communities to climate change.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel)

According to the Centre for Climate Change and Energy Solutions “Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to climate.” An Indigenous community may improve its resilience to climate change by considering current and future risks associated with climate change, and by drawing from their shared values to influence legislation protecting the environment.

Indigenous communities are taking an active role to build their own climate change resilience through local and traditional knowledge systems and control over their resources. If these aspects are undermined by non-Indigenous and Western scientific knowledge and land management practices, Indigenous climate resilience is threatened.

The values of diverse Indigenous peoples contribute to strengthening Indigenous climate resilience worldwide by:

  • Sustaining a physical and spiritual connection with Mother Earth;
  • Upholding the sense that one’s personal and community’s well-being is connected to the well-being of the environment; and
  • Fostering Intergenerational equity: “the principle that every generation holds the Earth in common with members of the present generation and with other generations, past and future.”

In Aotearoa (New Zealand), the Māori principle that the well-being of humans and nature are connected, influenced the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, which granted the Whanganu River, and the nearby forest, the same “rights, powers, and duties of a legal person.” Many Indigenous communities, inspired by this legislation, are trying to enact similar laws in their own jurisdictions, and contribute to their own climate resilience.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Planning for climate change in Canadian municipalities can include different approaches undertaken by city governments to manage natural resources, land uses, transportation, infrastructure, and city services in order to mitigate, or adapt to, climate change. These approaches may also involve diverse members of the public in decision making processes.

An official plan (or general, community, or master plan), is a formal document that helps a city or community to outline a vision, and key objectives for various aspects of land use and development in their jurisdiction, and over a long period of time (sometimes 10 years or more). In Canada, cities of different sizes are required by provincial law to have an official plan, like in Ontario. Official plans can be amended from time to time too. In 2010, the City of Iqaluit (Nunavut) was the first municipality in Canada to incorporate climate change in its General Plan (see section 2.5). The extent to which municipalities include climate change goals in their official plans varies widely across Canada.

Some municipalities are seeking guidance to find innovative ways to address climate change through their official plans, and they have developed different kinds of partnerships to achieve their goals. For example, the Clean Air Partnership published a report based on their collaboration with approximately 30 municipalities in Ontario to seek ways to promote clean air initiatives and to address climate change through municipal official plans. In another example, the National Measures Report 2019, released by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), highlights how 400 municipalities, members of the FCM’s Partners for Climate Change Protection (PCP) program, developed 420 projects across Canada to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the local level. These are projects, rather than plans, that show how city-operated facilities and services, as well as local businesses, homes, and transportation, are all vital to reducing GHGs in the atmosphere.

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), working on behalf of planners across Canada, offers various informational resources on climate change and planning. The CIP’s Policy on Climate Change Planning, encourages professional planners to incorporate climate change-informed planning into all aspects of planning for cities and regions in order to meet an ethical obligation to the planet. However, among the barriers that prevent planners from incorporating climate change priorities into planning practice are the lack of political support and of up-to-date information, for decision making and forecasting.

The Climate Alliance, a network of 1,800 European municipalities – large and small, urban and rural – has developed a partnership with Indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin to address climate change at the global scale and to emphasise the importance of sustainable forestry worldwide. Since Canadian municipalities are located on Indigenous lands, municipalities might consider assessing how their climate change priorities could align with the climate change priorities of the Indigenous communities whose lands they occupy. Such an effort may highlight shared or divergent priorities in fighting climate change, and the potential for communities’ resilience to climate change effects.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), with the support of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), are looking for comments and ideas regarding current and future freshwater management challenges in Canada and the role that a new Canada Water Agency could play in maintaining Canada’s freshwater sources. The Canada Water Agency would “work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists and others to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.”

The groups of focus for the consultation period include non-governmental organizations, including watershed organizations, academic institutions, municipalities, industry stakeholders, Indigenous peoples, and youth.

Consultation is being conducted through PlaceSpeak, an online engagement platform. Individuals can provide feedback via a discussion page on PlaceSpeak or they can contact ECCC directly at ec.water-eau.ec@canada.ca. Through PlaceSpeak ECCC also plans on posting detailed discussion aids and specific questions in the future to gain a sense of direction Canadians would like to see the Canada Water Agency take. The link for the PlaceSpeak page can be found here: http://www.placespeak.com/CanadaWaterAgency.

This project is open from comments from May 13, 2020 – May 31, 2021.