3A.2 Niagara climate change project- a collaborative participatory approach to climate change adaptation

Monday, 18 July 2011: 3:45 PM
Salon A (Asheville Renaissance)
Kerrie T. Pickering, Brock University, St Catharines, ON, Canada; and R. Plummer and B. May
Manuscript (89.3 kB)

The capacity to adapt to climatic and environmental changes is not uniform for all individuals, communities and societies. Engaging actors in processes that build capacity and foster adaptability is therefore crucial. In the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada, a collaborative participatory approach is being employed to ultimately increase adaptive capacity and enhance the governance network regarding climate change.

The approach taken is informed by recent innovations in adaption and learning science. In following the IPCC's broad definition of adaptive capacity, attention is directed at “...the ability of a system to adjust to climate change to moderate potential damages, or to take advantages of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences”. While the actual determinants and indicators of adaptive capacity continue to be debated in the literature, attention is focused on the construct as ‘largely a function of social and institutional conditions and the ability of individuals and groups to engage collectively'. Learning is recognized as central to effective adaptation and learning processes that emphasizes collaboration and participation in response to change is a key type of adaptation'. The concept of social learning is particularly instructive as it involves ‘ the iterative action, reflection and deliberation of individuals and groups engaged in the sharing of experiences and ideas to collaboratively resolve complex challenges'

The Niagara region covers 1,852km2 and is located in southern Ontario between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Niagara is comprised of 12 municipalities and one regional municipality servicing a population of approximately 430,000. The region is home to Niagara Falls and tourism from it as well as the wine industry are significant revenue generators for the area. A strong agricultural sector and the production of wine is made possible by the moderating effects of both lakes on the climate. Niagara had once been a strong manufacturing region but this has been declining over recent years as industry has moved off-shore. The region also hosts Brock University, where the Niagara Climate Change Project is based, with funding by Environment Canada.

The Niagara Climate Change Project began in 2009 when a history of past risk management and a Social-Ecological Inventory (SEI) were completed which identified key stakeholders active in environmental and climate change activities in Niagara. The SEI identified 50 key stakeholders from federal, provincial, regional and municipal government, agriculture, environmental management, NGO's, business, education, emergency response, media and health care. Thirty three consented to be interviewed, and the interview process allowed for information to be collected on their environmental activities, collaborations, perceived climatic changes and leadership in the region.

Once interviews were completed and analyzed, participants were invited to an introductory session where they could meet with the research team, develop a greater understanding of the project and meet the other participants. A month later, the first in a series of workshops was held. During the first workshop baseline data on learning and network analysis was collected through surveys and a mind mapping exercise to gain an understanding of the climate change knowledge and network connections participants came into the process with. Future learning and network data will be collected at yearly intervals for analysis and comparison to assess if knowledge and networking had changed over this period of time. The workshop also provided an opportunity to present participants with the most recent climate data for Niagara, highlighting present and future impacts; a need often expressed during the interview stage. Two months later a second workshop was held in response to participants desire to understand what activities others in the group were involved in. At this meeting all participants spoke of their adaptation/mitigation efforts in Niagara, helping to create an environment for social learning and developing collaborations. The participants will be meeting again in a month and now wish to define the role of the group, set long and short-term goals and decide upon a framework to express these. While it is difficult to predict a definitive direction the group will take, there has been much interest expressed in developing a community climate change action plan involving both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

While this is not the first collaborative participatory approach to climate change in Canada, it is the first research project of its type and the first time that social learning and collaboration through network analysis have been measured in this context and over an extended period. In addition to various academic outputs, such as further elucidation of vulnerability identifiers, the lessons learned in this process will form part of an international ‘tool' package to assist other communities in developing a collaborative governance strategy to climate change. To assist in this information exchange, the Community Climate Change Leadership Network website has been developed to offer a venue for discussion and ideas exchange (www.cccln.ca). The study is expected to continue for a further 3-4 years depending on the needs of the participants. During this time the research team will transition from its present facilitation role to a less visible supportive position as the group becomes self-sustaining. n as the group becomes self-sustaining.

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