Dawson Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan

Created: 11/29/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


Dawson, a small community on the northwestern edge of the Yukon Territory, developed a climate change adaptation plan in 2010. The plan was the result of multiple community meetings with outside partners beginning in 2008. The plan outlines climate change related impacts and community vulnerabilities, prioritizes adaptation strategies, and reviews potential climate-related opportunities for Dawson. The report was officially completed on June 30, 2010, and will be utilized to prioritize and implement climate change adaptation projects for Dawson.


Dawson is located in Yukon, Canada and is home to the First Nation Trondek Hwech’In. The city is located at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers near the Arctic Circle; it is on the edge of the discontinuous permafrost zone wherein permafrost is up to 60 meters deep under portions of Dawson. Permafrost temperature monitoring began in 2007 to assess changing temperatures but data to date are insufficient to provide any trend analysis. Air temperatures can range from -60°C in winter to 35°C in summer. It has been estimated that mean temperatures have increased by 6.2°C per century in Dawson with a higher rate of change in nighttime lows relative to daytime highs.

Important employers in Dawson include Federal and Provincial Government schools, a branch of the Yukon College, and Federal offices. In addition, in 1896, Dawson became a regional hub for the Gold Rush and some mines in the area are still active seasonally; as such, gold rush tourism has also served to bolster the Dawson economy. Many residents are subsistence hunters and rely on the bounty of natural resources in the Dawson area to survive. The 2006 census estimated the total population to be 1,327 residents but this number does not include the substantial seasonal population that enters Dawson during the summer months. Because Dawson houses a large seasonal and transient population, changing climate conditions may disproportionately affect permanent residents compared to the portion of Dawson’s population that is accustomed to moving annually.


The Dawson Climate Change Adaptation Project (DCAP) was proposed to help Dawson residents prepare for any adverse conditions or opportunities climate change may present. Dawson was selected by the Northern Climate ExChange to pilot a climate change adaptation strategy because of their prior community interest in climate change, existing infrastructure (i.e. a sustainability plan), existence of relevant research partners, and interest from First Nations. The first step was to establish a local advisory committee to steer the project. One key goal of the local advisory committee was to engage the community in discussions of climate-related risks, vulnerabilities and values.   

The DCAP was divided into three parts: a vulnerability assessment, an adaptation plan, and an implementation plan. The Northern Climate ExChange has committed to implementing three adaptation projects within Yukon communities by 2012. Dawson began the DCAP in 2008 in collaboration with the Northern Climate ExChange, the International Polar Year Dawson Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in Arctic Regions (CAVIAR) program, and the Dawson Local Advisory Committee. 

The Canadian Regional Climate Model (CRCM) projects that annual temperature in Dawson will increase by 2.5-3.5°C by 2050 due to climate change. Winter is expected to exhibit the greatest extent of warming, 4-6°C. This area is projected to experience some of the largest winter time temperature excursions out of anywhere in the Western North America region. Summer temperatures are expected to increase by 1.5-2.5°C. Precipitation is expected to increase by 10-40% but there is a high degree of uncertainty with these estimations. Climate change is also expected to cause increasingly unpredictable weather which will have far-reaching consequences to residents that rely upon predictable weather for their subsistence hunting. 

Dawson held a community input week to develop a regional climate change impacts scenario, analyze vulnerabilities, and develop adaptation strategies.  Impacts were divided into non-community and community level impacts. Community vulnerabilities were prioritized based on the anticipated level of the impact, the likelihood of the impact, and the adaptive capacity of the community. Impacts of most concern had a high level of impact, high likelihood that the impact will occur, and low adaptive capacity. In the Dawson Climate Change Adaptation Plan, community-based vulnerabilities are identified and then adaptation strategies are outlined and prioritized. Vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies suggested are outlined below. The first bullet point describes the vulnerability and the sub-bullet points are proposed adaptation strategies. The key community-based vulnerabilities are:

  • Increased flooding vulnerability
    • Update flood response plan
    • Release information about possible flooding
    • Raise the existing level of dykes and build new dykes
    • Record local knowledge regarding seasonal flooding
  • Increased forest fire frequency and intensity
    • Support the forest adaptive management strategy
    • Consider fire vulnerability with new buildings
    • Update and develop a fire response plan
    • Improve fire defenses
  • Seasonal weather changes
    • Develop a severe storm warning system
    • Create storm shelters
    • Complete an evacuation plan
  • Permafrost degradation
    • Complete a detailed permafrost assessment
    • Monitor water quality
    • Use different foundation material and develop better building codes
  • Reduced access to Dawson
    • Renew cultural memory of being self-sufficient
    • Ensure town has resources to quickly repair damage
  • Changes in land use characteristics
    • Make rural land use planning regulations and policies more flexible
    • Monitor spread of invasive species
    • Seek alternative food sources relative to historical norms
    • Incorporate climate change into land use planning

Predicted non-community impacts of climate change to the Dawson region include:

  • Increased forest fire frequency and intensity;
  • Shifts in wildlife migration patterns and regional biodiversity;
  • Reduced water quality due to contamination; and
  • Permafrost degradation.

The report also outlines opportunities that may arise due to regional climate change. These opportunities vary from increased mushroom harvests to reduced heating costs. Each opportunity is ranked based upon its likelihood of occurrence, adaptive capacity, and community priority.

Outcomes and Conclusions

There were many challenges when creating the climate change adaptation plan including climatic variability, lack of communication amongst existing climate related networks, sociopolitical constraints, lack of capacity, desire to mitigate rather than adapt, lack of measurable goals and desired outcomes, and a general lack of high-resolution, good quality, downscaled climate change science. Some facilitating factors of the project include the high adaptability of historically resource dependent communities, local climate knowledge, community concern about climate change, strong community engagement, and an increasing body of knowledge to draw from.

The Dawson Climate Change Adaptation Plan provides a comprehensive analysis of climate change related impacts to Dawson, community vulnerabilities, adaptation strategies, and community opportunities. Everything is ranked based upon the same scale which eases comparison of vulnerabilities and allows the community to prioritize adaptation strategies. Projects selected for implementation should have a broad appeal, high relevance, and measurable results amongst other criteria. 


Information collected through interviews and publications. Last updated November 2010


Feifel, K. (2010). Dawson Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan [Case study on a project of the Northern Climate ExChange and Government of Yukon]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/dawson-community-climate-change-adapt… (Last updated November 2010)

Project Contact(s)

Position: Research Project Coordinator

Established in 2000, the Northern Climate ExChange (NCE) focuses on the study of climate change in Yukon by (1) promoting and coordinating research on impacts and adaptations, including risk and vulnerability assessments, (2) coordinating the exchange of scientific and local knowledge and expertise, and (3) providing mainstreaming and decision-making support, policy alternatives, and climate change education for a wide range of partners and audiences.


Yukon is larger than life with breathtaking wilderness, a wealth of opportunities, abundant natural resources and friendly welcoming people. It is home to a skilled and educated work force, modern infrastructure and endless options for outdoor activities year-round.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Tribal / First Nation
Sector Addressed
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Culture / communities
Public health risks
Public safety threats
Climate Type
1-3 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Governance and Policy
Develop / implement adaptation plans
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage

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