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Coastal ecosystems, or coastal wetlands, are one of the world’s most important ecological carbon sinks, storing roughly 50% of all carbon buried in the ocean. They act as “carbon stores… known as ‘blue carbon’ because they are located in places where the land meets the sea.” Simply put, coastal wetlands are the world’s blue carbon sink, and protecting them contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation worldwide.

A healthy wetland is one that “can keep carbon stored away for millennia.”  When coastal ecosystems are increasingly threatened by climate change effects and are being destroyed, they release approximately 450 million metric tons of carbon dioxide worldwide. Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane are all greenhouse gases (GHG). Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and sea grasses provide locations for diverse habitat, offer feeding grounds for numerous species, and act as sponges that retain millions of gallons of floodwater.

The protection of coastal ecosystems has ecological and cultural benefits. As the breeding ground for fish habitat, coastal wetlands are important food sources. Coastal wetlands are also areas of environmental significance and cultural and spiritual heritage for Indigenous peoples, from the Seychelle Islands to the Arctic shoreline. Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and stewardship are crucial to the successful management of coastal wetlands.

Coastal wetlands can act as buffers that improve the resilience of coastlines during severe storms. Furthermore, ongoing climate change effects such as sea level rise and soil erosion are damaging coastal ecosystems. However, uncontrolled coastal land development, conversion of wetlands into agricultural use, and greenhouse gas emissions from cars, shed more light on human-made impacts on coastline destruction.

The protection of coastal wetlands has been recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as a key contributor to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As signatories of the Paris Agreement, countries can take actions to reduce, if not to eliminate, harmful greenhouse gas emissions and to facilitate restoration of the coastal wetlands and other natural areas to meet climate mitigation and adaptation targets. Canada’s 2021 updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement “is to reduce emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030” and to “[reduce] its emissions to net-zero by 2050.” However, specific action plans for curbing emissions, which should include restoring natural areas, must be supported, and implemented. Indigenous climate leadership is addressed in Canada’s revised NDCs, noting support for “Indigenous-led and delivered solutions, equipping Indigenous Peoples with equitable resources, and ensuring appropriate and timely access to funding to implement self-determined climate action.”

Protecting coastal wetlands, the blue carbon sinks of the planet will require ongoing research, policy, and government action worldwide. The World Water Forum in 2022 will be held in Dakar and offers an opportunity for countries to review sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, including addressing the lack of access to safe drinking water among First Nations communities, eliminating chemical pollution of watersheds, and upholding human rights to clean water and sanitation.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: James Park, Unsplash)

In May 2016, Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), almost ten years after it was adopted by the UN General Assembly. As an international law, “UNDRIP affirms Indigenous rights to protection of the environment” and has increasing potential to inform environmental protection policy in Canada.

According to Article 25 of UNDRIP: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” Article 29 goes further to highlight the rights of Indigenous peoples to the “conservation and protection of the environment.”

In Canada, UNDRIP is gaining traction in guiding environmental policy. Bill C-69 was passed in 2019 and resulted in changes to the federal environmental impact assessment process, including requiring “early and regular engagement with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of Indigenous rights and interests from the start.” Bill C-69 can be interpreted as an effort by the Canadian government to build consistency between Canada’s environmental protection policies and UNDRIP.

In June 2021, Bill C-15, a bill to ensure that “the laws of Canada are consistent with” UNDRIP, passed third reading in the Senate, and will now require “meaningful consultation” with Indigenous peoples before implementation. It remains uncertain whether or not Bill C-15 will also ensure that Indigenous treaties are honoured.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Gunnar Ridderstrom, Unsplash)

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

Indigenous Local Knowledge (ILK) is a combined term that reflects Indigenous knowledge, based on cultural practices, and local knowledge, rooted in local contexts and experiences. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the United Nations responsible for evaluating the “science of climate change,” has noted that ILK is crucial to enabling communities to adapt to climate change, and that ILK is also under threat worldwide.

As a vital resource for responding to climate change, ILK is threatened by:

  1. the speed of climate change impacts outpacing the incremental application of ILK.
  2. a combination of processes, including rapid urbanization, the expansion of formalized education, economic diversification, and the adoption of new technologies which shift the focus away from agriculture, and may ‘disrupt’ how ILK is traditionally passed from one generation to the next.
  3. how the acquisition of land at a large scale, to promote mass food production, can minimize local and small scale economies in favour of the global economy.

Embedding ILK practices into local institutions can help policy decision makers to understand climate change effects on Indigenous communities in diverse locations across the world, especially where there is no formal scientific data being collected. According to the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (SR15), climate change experts have found that ILK can provide accurate baselines for environmental processes, such as global warming, changes to weather, water quality, and landscape degradation.

By Leela Viswanathan

As young people and the young-at-heart go back to school this fall, it is good to revisit how Indigenous land-based learning is a way to take action on climate change. The impact of COVID-19 on society has also shed light on the importance of outdoor education.

According to a report inspired by the work of the Misipawistik Pimatisiméskanaw land-based learning program in Misipawistik Cree Nation, Manitoba, “Indigenous land-based learning typically uses an Indigenized and environmentally-focused approach to education by first recognizing the deep, physical, mental, and spiritual connection to the land that is a part of Indigenous cultures.” Indigenous land-based education teaches environmental stewardship. Simply put, Indigenous environmental stewardship reflects all the ways that Indigenous peoples honour Mother Earth, including practices of conservation and sustainability, as well as showing a responsibility for one another, as human beings.

Indigenous scholars at the University of Guelph in Southwestern Ontario have been working together with several community agencies, including the Global Youth Network, the Grand River Métis Council, and the White Owl Native Ancestry Association, to establish the Wisahkotewinowak teaching garden at the university’s arboretum. The garden is a space for youth to learn from Indigenous Elders about seasonal medicinal and edible plants. Wisahkotewinowak, is an Ojibway word that means “the growth of new shoots after a fire.” Youth are also involved in a project that involves the Niisaachwan Anishinaabe Nation and that combines learning about manomin (wild rice), an important food source for Anishinaabe people, with learning about changes to the land brought on by human settlement along the Winnipeg River. The Manomin/Wild Rice Project offers opportunities for land-based learning and intergenerational cooperation that also characterizes Indigenous food sovereignty projects.

In another example, children and youth ranging from kindergarten to grade 8 at the Biitigong Nishnaabeg Elementary School, just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, are benefitting from learning about traditional knowledge and skills, like manomin harvesting, from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. The pilot project is run in partnership with Lakehead University, and has led members of all ages of the Biitigong community to learn about the benefits of land-based learning. Land-based practices characterizing Anishinaabe pedagogies, including those among communities governed by the Grand Council of Treaty #3 territories, offer insight into cultural practices, and practices that maintain a strong sense of identity among diverse Anishinaabe peoples.

The benefits of Indigenous-led education, including land-based learning, are also formally recognized, at the international scale, by the UNESCO. According to section B19 of the UNESCO Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples, “effectively including indigenous peoples’ knowledge, holistic worldviews and cultures in the development of education policies, programmes, projects and practices and promoting their perspectives, would provide meaningful learning opportunities that are equally available, accessible, acceptable and appropriate for all indigenous peoples.”

There is an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and for their respective governments, to consider linking both educational policies and diverse practices that support Indigenous land-based education with climate change action.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Events

**NOTE of Change: This event was originally scheduled June 10-12, 2020 in Ottawa, however it was rescheduled to June 9-11, 2021 due the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow the Canadian Water Summit website for future updates.

Event Description:

The Canadian Water Summit will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association’s (CWWA) Window on Ottawa. Together, the Canadian Water Summit and Window on Ottawa will help build important conversations on the policy and governance issues that are key to unlocking Canada’s blue economy.

The week will kick off with Window on Ottawa on June 9, 2020 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre. It will be followed by the Canadian Water Summit on June 10 and 11 at the same venue.