From 2019 to 2022, the Adaptation Learning Network project worked with businesses, post-secondary educators, non-profits, professional associations, scientists and all levels of government, to begin to shift the narrative on building capacity for climate adaptation, from being something we should maybe think about for the future – to a critical responsibility every organization needs to commit to now.
In pursuit of our core project goals, we engaged over 12,000 climate adaptation experts and professionals across Canada and the world through ALN courses, the Climate Adaptation Competency Framework (CACF) and the professional learning network.
Despite the challenges and constraints of working in an extremely dynamic environment, created in part by the global COVID pandemic, we also took on and met complex additional challenges beyond building and delivering a suite of courses. We built an open learning repository;, developed a climate adaptation micro-credential strategy; piloted the use of the CACF to inform future use-cases; and produced a unique and powerful multi-media and open (creative commons licensed) course that explores Indigenous perspectives on climate adaptation, and what non-Indigenous people and companies should consider when engaging and working with Indigenous partners on climate adaptation work.
We’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve with our team, our collaborators and our community. Yet, we know that this work is just beginning.
We need to find new ways to move climate adaptation from the fringe to the mainstream. Not just because we know that climate change will affect us in the future, but because it’s something we can do to make a difference right now.
Which begs the question – where do we go from here?
As we wrapped up the ALN project in March 2022, we reached out to our team members and partners to find out what they think Canada needs to do next to improve our climate adaptation capacity. Here’s what they said.
Universities need to take a lead role – not just as educators but also as innovators. Specifically, they must become more agile in the way they develop and deliver learning experiences to provide smaller courses in tighter timeframes. Such a shift will do more than just improve national climate adaptation capacity; it will also help universities stay relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace that includes new kinds of private and corporate schools.
Improving collaboration is essential to finding new ways to tackle the complex issues we face. No one person or institution alone has all the answers. We must shift the way we create public-private partnerships between governments, universities, research bodies and businesses. Specifically, we need to encourage research funding bodies like the Tri-Council funding agencies – Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) – the primary mechanism through which the Government of Canada supports research and training at post-secondary institutions, to make climate change research a priority, to advance innovation and impact.
To take this one step further, we need to invest in building, supporting and growing more networks to enable this kind of collaboration. That means we also have to invest heavily in communications and engagement resources and staff to develop and sustain relationships within and between networks.
We also need to acknowledge and address the systemic barriers we encountered in doing this work, in particular, the siloed nature of structures in government and organizations. Finding new ways to create real integration will not only free up resources and capacity but will also create opportunities and space for breakthroughs to happen.
In addition to navigating structural challenges within the public sector, we continue to struggle with policies that either don’t fully support necessary actions on climate, or at times, promote actions that continue to contribute to the climate crises. The climate emergency calls for a radical shift in culture, in the way we manage our natural and financial resources. A clear commitment to the transition to a no-carbon future is necessary in policies, practice and processes. We cannot hope to be successful in mitigating climate and adapting to climate impacts without mainstream public support for invests in climate action.
We need more and stronger leadership across sectors to mainstream climate adaptation. Despite clear evidence that climate change is already affecting communities, families and businesses across the globe, we continue to behave like we have all the time in the world. Recent climate change driven disasters in Canada show that being reactive instead of proactive results in the public and private sectors spending billions on repairs, restoration and rebuilding. Being proactive requires investments, but results ultimately in reducing spending by mitigating some of these impacts, and being better prepared to meet the ones we can’t avoid. Without visionary and courageous leaders who are willing to break free of electoral cycles to invest in our future, we’ll lose the opportunity to become global leaders in climate adaptation innovation. Plus we’ll be doomed to continue to suffer severe loss and damage.
Yet, amid all these concerns, we also heard optimism and hope for the future. When we look at how society responded to environmental issues like acid rain or pesticides in the past, we can see what is possible. Recent commitments by the federal government to invest billions in employment training because of the pandemic, and to spend millions protecting the environment and supporting nature-based solutions show us that there is a better path forward.
Finally, we heard that we need more of the kind of work that we have undertaken over the last three years:
- open, whole-hearted, passionate and purposeful collaboration across sectors and silos,
- commitment by diverse leaders, experts, learners and citizens to bring their best selves to a shared challenge,
- putting aside ego, individualism and profit in pursuit of a collective good.
As the ALN project drew to a close, we began to explore a new opportunity to build on these insights and continue this important work of building adaptation capacity. A new idea emerged from the ongoing collaboration between Royal Roads University’s Resilience by Design Lab, and the Climate Risk Institute. We began exploring the idea of building a pan-Canadian not-for-profit organization focused on climate adaptation capacity-building and workforce development. CanADAPT would bring together post-secondary partners and NGOs interested in contributing to climate adaptation knowledge brokering and national workforce development to address the impacts of climate change. We envision this potential entity as an inclusive organization, possibly a not-for-profit co-operative. At the time of this report, a team had already begun the initial work to conduct community research, develop a business plan, and create a digital environment to support the CanADAPT idea, and our shared vision for pan-Canadian capacity-building for climate adaptation.
And that is our story. It’s been our great honour and privilege to do this work with an amazing community of global citizens who believe in the possibility of a brighter future. We can’t wait to see where the journey leads.