Brock-community partnership produces effective climate change plans

How to cope with steaming hot summers, wild storms and other climate challenges was a huge question on the minds of Jessica Blythe, her Brock University research team and Niagara officials back in 2019.

At that time, they launched their Niagara Adapts partnership to collaborate with seven municipalities — Grimsby, Lincoln, Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Pelham, St. Catharines and Welland — on the development of plans to respond to climate change impacts and build climate resilience in their communities.

Their efforts have since gone on to garner attention and were recently recognized as part of a University of Ottawa research paper.

The paper, “Evaluating the comprehensiveness of municipal climate change adaptation plans in Ontario, Canada,” ranked the climate adaptation plans created by the province’s most populous municipalities.

St. Catharines came in third place of the 15 plans evaluated.

“I’m thrilled about it,” says Blythe, Associate Professor in Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) whose research team includes ESRC Director Ryan Plummer and ESRC Administrator Amanda Smits. “The paper provides evidence that our university-community partnership contributed to an excellent adaptation plan.”

A municipal climate change adaptation plan sets out actions that respond to challenges brought on by climate change, such as flooding, drought, windstorms, unseasonably high and low temperatures, and steep temperature fluctuations.

Part of the plan involves co-ordinating programs, services and other measures spread out across areas such as energy, transportation, emergency preparedness, land use and economic development.

“Climate change adaptation planning enables communities to understand their vulnerabilities and manage the impacts, risks and opportunities posed by a changing climate,” says Blythe.

The St. Catharines climate adaptation plan – “Preparing for a Changing Future” – describes the steps needed to achieve six goals:

  • Prepare for hotter summers
  • Prepare for, and respond to, extreme weather events
  • Develop a flood prevention strategy
  • Improve stormwater management including the use of green infrastructure
  • Prepare for high Lake Ontario water levels
  • Rethink how the city addresses climate change

“It’s about getting everyone thinking about the future, both near and long term, of how this plan, program, procedure or others might be affected by a changing climate,” says Olivia Groff, Climate Change Adaptation Co-ordinator for the City of St. Catharines and author of the St. Catharines plan.

“For example, the City has begun incorporating climate change considerations into our asset management planning, which has allowed staff to evaluate the short- and long-term risks posed by climate change on specific infrastructure assets,” says Groff.

To inform their climate adaptation plans, Groff and other officials relied on research Blythe and her team conducted on a variety of topics.

For instance, the team held a series of community consultations to ask residents about their experiences with extreme heat, cold, weather and flooding. Residents were also asked to share their beliefs about, and responses to, climate change.

Data gathered from these consultations was compiled into a Climate Vulnerability Fact Sheet for St. Catharines.

Researchers and officials held workshops in 2019 and 2020 to discuss concepts of climate change impacts, vulnerability, risk assessment, best practices and program evaluation, among other topics.

“The partnership allowed the City to be informed of best practices through research, guide and connect us with our communities vulnerabilities and help produce the end results of our successful Climate Adaptation Plan,” says Groff, adding that the vulnerability survey gave “invaluable insight” into how climate change directly impacts the community.

The team also hosted several events for communities to learn about climate change.

“Within ESRC, we aim to conduct solution-oriented and transdisciplinary research, meaning that we don’t just work with academics, but engage with partners outside of the University,” says Blythe.

“Community-based partnerships are relevant for Brock University because of our commitment to be grounded here in Niagara and to advance research that is not only cutting edge from an academic point of view, but also provides benefits to the community,” she says.

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