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Project Summary / Overview
Tsiigehtchic is a small, traditional community located in the Northwest Territories (NWT) of Canada. Due to its northern location, climate change impacts such as melting permafrost and increased erosion are already being felt in Tsiigehtchic. In response, the Tsiigehtchic community partnered with Ecology North, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting sound environmental decision-making at individual, community, and regional levels, to develop a climate change adaptation plan.
Tsiigehtchic is a small community in the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA) of the NWT and is located at the confluence of the Arctic Red and Mackenzie Rivers. It originated as a traditional seasonal fishing camp and remains a traditional community to this day with trapping, fishing, and hunting as essential components to residents’ livelihoods. Tsiigehtchic recently became concerned with climate change impacts when melting permafrost and bank erosion began to threaten a landmark church in the community. The community approached Ecology North about creating a climate change adaptation plan to help Tsiigehtchic enhance its community resilience and ability to adapt to changing climate conditions. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Adaptation and Impacts Research Division provided funding for the project.
Ecology North used climate scenarios (developed by the Canadian Climate Change Scenarios Network) to provide a picture of the future climate around Tsiigehtchic. These scenarios formed the basis for the development of key vulnerabilities and potential impacts in the community. Climate scenarios predict increases in annual temperatures, changes in precipitation (e.g., more snow in fall and winter), increased cloud cover, more open water in the Beaufort Sea and freshwater lakes, more extreme weather events (e.g., strong winds, floods, droughts), and increased numbers of thunderstorms with hotter, wetter weather in the summer.
Ecology North used a five-step approach to create an adaptation plan for Tsiigehtchic:
- provide climate change background and understanding on territorial-wide impacts;
- develop a community advisory committee;
- ask the community advisory committee to identify climate change impacts;
- consult technical experts to ensure that all potential impacts are included; and
- develop adaptation strategies and present them to the community.
In December 2009, a community-based Local Advisory Committee and the Ecology North project team held a workshop to develop a community vision for how they see Tsiigehtchic in 2050. In addition to this vision, they identified impacts to and potential solutions for the community based on four sectors: land, people, economy, and infrastructure. The impacts and potential solutions were applied in a risk assessment exercise to estimate the consequence, likelihood, and adaptive capacity of the community for each impact, and then assigned a low, medium, or high rating. Adaptive capacity was evaluated based on familiarity of the impact, resources available within the community to use to respond to the impact, the motivation of residents to respond, and the level of education and/or skills required to effectively respond. High priority risks were then identified for the community; these were characterized by high consequence, high likelihood, and low adaptive capacity. In February 2010, a Technical Advisory Committee reviewed the results from the workshop and developed a list of recommendations for adapting to climate-related impacts.
Project Outcomes and Conclusions
A final report, Gwichya Gwich’in Climate Change Adaptation Planning Project, was released in March 2010. High priority areas for adaptation actions identified in the report included:
- potential slumping and erosion of Church Hill and Cemetery;
- permafrost degradation causing damage to building and house foundations;
- flooding and drainage concerns on town roads;
- declines in caribou numbers;
- increases in landslides along the Mackenzie River;
- potential of forest fires;
- assessing fuel tanks; pellet stoves and alternative energies; and
- removing contaminants from the community.
Although there will be negative impacts of climate change on the Tsiigehtchic community, positive effects are also anticipated such as a longer growing season for agriculture, better tourism opportunities, faster tree growth, and hunting opportunities for new species.
Approximately 34 different adaptation strategies were recommended ranging from extremely easy to very difficult to implement and from those that cost nothing to those that will have a substantial cost. These strategies are covered in detail in the report and are organized by theme. The most significant recommendation made by the report was to ensure that climate change is recognized in every major planning decision and community development process. Recommendations still need to be placed in the order that they should be implemented; following this step, the Community Councils will need to pass a motion to accept the final adaptation plan in order to move forward with implementation.