Climate Risks and Adaptive Capacity in Aboriginal Communities South of 60 Degrees Latitude
Current efforts to understand the impacts of climate change on Aboriginal communities in Canada focus on those groups north of the 60th parallel. The lack of attention to the southern communities has resulted in a scarcity of information about the biophysical, economic, social, and cultural impacts of climate change, and how those impacts could exacerbate current challenges (e.g., poor water quality, unsafe housing, substandard infrastructure). Moreover, the capacity for Aboriginal communities (individuals and institutions) south of 60° to adapt to climate change impacts remains largely unknown. In order to fill this gap, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) partnered with the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER) to identify specific climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in these communities as well as their capacity to adapt.
Aboriginal communities south of the 60° latitude currently face numerous challenges such as high and rising rates of poverty and unemployment, generally lower education achievement, substandard infrastructure, insufficient and unsafe housing, high food costs, poor drinking water, and lack of employment opportunities. Climate change is predicted to affect multiple facets of Aboriginal community life, exacerbating current challenges and issues. To date, most efforts to document and understand climate change impacts on Aboriginal communities has occurred north of the 60th parallel. Aboriginal communities south of 60° have largely been ignored, resulting in a dearth of information about biophysical, economic, social, and cultural impacts of climate change, as well as the capacity of these communities to adapt.
In 2008, CIER completed an overview report of key climate change impacts and challenges for the First Nations south of 60°. Following the report, researchers at UBC partnered with CIER to expand the scope of the initial study to include Inuit and Métis communities south of 60°. This project focuses on specific climate change impacts in these communities, as well as issues of capacity and vulnerability. Historically, Aboriginal communities have adapted and coped with challenges at an individual or community level, however community and governance institutions are increasingly recognized as having a prominent role in determining how well or how poorly these communities are able to reduce negative impacts and take advantage of opportunities.
Three overarching goals for the project were identified: (1) increase knowledge about climate change impacts on Aboriginal communities south of 60° latitude; (2) increase knowledge about climate change risks and how these are linked to other challenges and issues; and (3) assess the capacity of these communities to respond, manage, or cope with the effects of climate change, and identify factors that may make some communities more at risk than others.
During the first year of the project, a conceptual framework and approach to guide implementation of the project goals were developed. In addition, specific climate risks for Aboriginal communities south of 60° were reviewed and synthesized, as well as an assessment of adaptive capacity at the local and regional levels. The next steps for this project are to prepare and implement the broader objectives (e.g., initiating an informal research network, identifying two types of case studies, developing a basic participatory research framework).
Outcomes and Conclusions
The first year of this project aimed to investigate the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Aboriginal communities south of 60° and outline a strategy for engaging stakeholder support through participatory research. Outcomes and future directions include:
- Climate change impacts are already being observed in Canada south of 60° including increased temperatures, decreased water availability, and shifts in species ranges (e.g., mountain pine beetle).
- Current challenges in Aboriginal communities such as low annual income, low formal education, poor housing, and poor water quality will be exacerbated by climate change impacts.
- The goal of this project is to investigate the various aspects of adaptive capacity at the community level, as well as factors that contribute to specific vulnerabilities.
- Case study regions and participatory methods will be utilized to gather information on community vulnerability, adaptive capacity and resilience.
- Institutional capacity is a vital issue in this project – the reduction of vulnerability and/or improvement of adaptive capacity and resilience are dependent on the effectiveness of existing institutions.
Kershner, J. (2010). Climate Risks and Adaptive Capacity in Aboriginal Communities South of 60 Degrees Latitude [Case study on a project of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/climate-risks-and-adaptive-capacity-a… (Last updated December 2010)