It is important to situate this Final Report within the bigger picture of what was happening in the 2018-2022 period, vis-a-vis the accelerating climate crisis and societal response to the crisis. This helps in understanding the rationale, the imperatives, the constraints, the purposes and the possibilities of an initiative such as Adaptation Learning Network (ALN). It is an opportunity to reflect on whether or not the transformative systems change we know needs to happen, will happen in time.

In Fall of 2018, Dr. Robin Cox and the Resilience by Design Lab at Royal Roads University was invited to develop a proposal focused on building a program for climate adaptation capacity-building, to be targeted towards supporting working professionals in British Columbia. In addition to her role as a professor teaching in the Disaster and Emergency Management Master of Arts program, Robin had built a portfolio of applied research projects over the previous ten years, at the intersection of disaster risk reduction, community resilience, and empowering youth and other citizens to tackle the impacts of climate change (e.g., worsening wildfire and flood disasters). The proposal successfully garnered funding from both the Canadian federal and BC provincial governments. From 2019-2022, Dr. Cox and her team developed and operated Adaptation Learning Network (ALN), which is the subject of this Final Report.

And in this same period, from 2018 to 2022, the world burned. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised the alarm to Code Red; and in early April 2022, Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations was calling out world leaders and CEOs, describing decisions to invest in new fossil fuel projects as “moral and economic madness”.

Throughout this period, the ALN team did their small part to move the dial on helping working professionals and communities recognize the seriousness of the climate emergency and increase their capacity to meet those challenges. We helped to prepare people at the front line of climate adaptation (e.g., engineers, landscape architects, city planners, biologists, foresters, agrologists, and people working in public policy, etc.) to understand climate change realities and do their part by upskilling and applying social and technical competencies to tackle the complex tasks of climate adaptation.

Of course, we recognize that the ALN project team, the network we engaged with, and the deliverables we worked on, are only a few grains of sand in the big complex global windstorm of climate change. None the less, we had many occasions during the project, where the urgency of the work we were contributing to through building adaptation capacity seemed to sharply contrast with the public and private-sector focus on the “measurables” of climate mitigation and NetZero. The imperatives of climate adaptation seemed in many cases not to be a consideration at all, or an after-thought. Similarly, we like others, had many opportunities both with the COVID pandemic and disasters such as the BC heat dome, wildfires, and floods, to be perplexed and disturbed at the continued emphasis on funding response-and-recovery efforts, rather than investing in prevention and adaptation, and the paradox of the ongoing investments in fossil fuel industries and projects in the face of the catastrophic implications of the ongoing rise in GHG emissions.

OBSERVATION #1: Climate adaptation, and the investment in planning and preparing for inevitable climate impacts, has yet to receive the prioritization it requires in terms of education, funding, and actions. Perhaps this is in part because the “doing” of climate adaptation does not have the exuberant potential of investment windfalls that the cleantech sector has, and in part because of the continued gap in the public’s understanding of immediate and escalating climate risks locally and regionally, and the lack of understanding of what adaptation entails.

These realities and contradictions of the climate emergency became the impetus for the passion and energy the ALN team directed towards advancing and evolving this project.

Global pandemic zoonotic diseases – a climate change event? 

Climate change, and the related need for climate adaptation capacity-building, was not the only emergency we dealt with during this period from 2018-2022. Exactly one year into the ALN project, in January 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic took hold, first in China and then very quickly worldwide. By March 2020, Canada was in pandemic lock-down. There is no direct causal link between climate change and the spread of COVID-19, however we do know that climate change is likely to accelerate the instance of such zoonotic diseases. Climate-change related displacements and the increased migration to urban centers, climate induced migrations of other species, and the many social, economic, political and cultural impacts of climate change are driving the expansion of zoonotic diseases. In addition, many of the root causes of climate change are the same root causes that increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks and pandemics. Deforestation, for example, is the largest cause of habitat loss worldwide, forcing animals to migrate and increasing the likelihood of inter-species contact with people. The World Health Organization has described climate change as the worst threat to human health in the 21st century, including “the establishment and geographic expansion of zoonotic diseases” (Germain et al., 2019). As  temperatures continue to increase, the risk from zoonotic diseases will also increase.  In May 2019, less than one year prior to the outbreak of COVID-19,  The Public Health Agency of Canada published a report on Zoonoses and Adaptation to Climate Change, likely never imagining that less than a year later the world would be in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic.

Observation #2: The pandemic affected the ALN project team and project in the same way it affected every person, family, workplace, and public health service. There were many unexpected compromises and stresses, for the ALN team, and in the formation of a professional learning community. The stresses were especially challenging for the post-secondary institutions who were tasked with co-developing climate adaptation courses in the midst of “pivoting to online learning.” Some of our initial post-secondary partners abandoned their involvement in ALN due to competing priorities and reduced capacity. In the climate adaptation community, there was some talk of zoonotic diseases, but the causes of COVID-19 were quickly overshadowed by the pandemic’s effect on every person and community. 

Germain G, Simon A, Arsenault J, Baron G, Bouchard C, Chaumont D, El Allaki F, Kimpton A, Lévesque B, Massé A, Mercier M, Ogden NH, Picard I, Ravel A, Rocheleau JP, Soto J. Quebec’s Multi-Party Observatory on Zoonoses and Adaptation to Climate Change. Can Commun Dis Rep 2019;45(5):143–8.

The continued rise in global greenhouse gas emissions

In the period 2018-2022, growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continued, except for a brief drop in 2020 due to worldwide pandemic lockdown and economic slowdown. The International Energy Agency (IEA), created to ensure the security of oil supplies in 1974, is at the center of the global energy debate, and tracks climate change and air pollution, energy access and efficiency, and much more. In 2018 the IEA reported emissions of 36.1 billion metric tonnes of global CO2. By 2021, the IEA reported that 36.3 billion metric tonnes of global C02 were emitted, the highest level in history.

Governments, public institutions, companies and individuals began to talk with more passion and commitment about the need to reduce GHG emissions, but it did not seem to have much effect, as emissions targets were set and then never met.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) in Madrid  (COP 25), held in December 2019, there were impressive displays of climate action, but political outcomes were frustrated by last-minute disagreements.  Most discussions were postponed to the next COP.

At COP 26 in Glasgow in early November 2021, there was agreement on a comprehensive political package (the “Glasgow Climate Pact”) to complete longstanding work and launch new work to enhance ambition and action on mitigation, adaptation and finance. On the climate adaptation front, they launched a work program to develop global goals on adaptation; there was a call to double adaptation finance for developing countries; renewed emphasis on development of national adaptation plans; national adaptation communications were to be submitted by COP 27; and numerous initiatives were launched by interested countries and organizations (e.g. Adaptation Research Alliance). On the mitigation front, there was an agreement to revisit and strengthen 2030 targets, with a call to submit new national plans (NDCs) before COP 27; political consensus on reducing emissions was strengthened with agreed references in outcome to reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and to achieving net zero emissions by around mid-century, with the 1.5 C. goal kept within reach. Again there was impressive showcasing of climate action and the launch of numerous initiatives such as phasing out fossil fuel vehicles, enhancing efforts against deforestation, and accelerating coal phase out. Strong political statements and aims were agreed upon, but actual results depend on governments and business to implement the undertakings.

In 2018, Greta Thunberg, at age 15, became a celebrity after she protested outside the Swedish parliament with her signage saying, “School Strike for Climate”. She started a worldwide movement inspiring thousands of young people across the world to organize their own strikes and pressure governments to meet GHG emission targets. By December 2018, more than 20,000 students worldwide had joined Greta in protesting GHG emissions and the inaction of governments to address the climate emergency. In 2019, she received the first of three Nobel Peace Prize nominations for climate activism. In 2020 and 2021 she was the unanticipated star at COP 25 (Madrid) and COP 26 (Glasgow). Greta Thunberg – a teenager speaking truth to power in world theatres of obfuscation, where what is needed is leadership, decision-making and follow-through on commitments.

Observation #3: While GHG emissions continued to grow in the period 2018-2022, with many unmet promises by governments and industry worldwide, the activism of millions of people began to draw the climate emergency into mainstream conversations. This meant that the ALN team found a ready-audience for discussions on advancing the need to address climate impacts.  A corner had been turned on climate action, and people were keen to know what they might do to be part of the solution, not the problem. 

Significant climate impact events were becoming alarmingly frequent

In 2018, the Canadian Climate Change Services (CCCS) website noted that “weather changes in Canada are happening abruptly not subtly, rapidly not gradually. As Canadians continue to experience more and more extreme weather, intense month-long heat waves, suffocating smoke and haze from wildfires, and extreme flooding will simply be the norm mere decades from now.” For the second year in a row, BC faced a province-wide state of emergency with nearly 2,000 wildfires ignited across the province. By August 8, there were 460 simultaneous wildfires.

In 2019, the CCCS website reported that “Canadians had plenty to “weather”: Winter froze and buried us; summer soaked and frightened us and, occasionally, baked us. It was the shorter spring and fall seasons that brought the most destructive and disruptive weather. Property damage from weather extremes cost Canadians millions and the economy billions of dollars. Based on preliminary estimates collected by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, there were 12 major catastrophic events, each with losses in excess of $25 million. For the eleventh year in a row, the Canadian insurance sector faced billion-dollar losses due to weather-related extremes. In the rugged but fragile North, 2019 saw the Arctic continue its alarming warming and massive ice melt. Parts of the North experienced southern-like weather, such as heat waves, thunderstorms, tornadoes, wildfires and winter rains. Arctic ice cover shrank to its second lowest minimum extent on record (40 years).”

In 2020, the CCCS website reported that “Canada is warming at nearly twice the global rate, with parts of western and northern Canada warming three or four times the global average. Sea ice in the North is thinning and shrinking, and our unique ice shelves are crumbling into pieces.”  This was the year of at least 77 tornadoes across Canada and a record hurricane season played havoc on the Atlantic coast. “All the while, the pandemic played its own storm, with the need to quarantine and social distance. Towards the end of the year in the midst of a second and third wave, the virus morbidity statistics were horrific and pandemic fatigue was taking over. However, there was hope that effective vaccines would soon make the dire threat go away. There is no vaccine for extreme weather, only sustainable planning, preparedness and a rapid response.”

In 2021 the CCCS website reported that Canada continued to warm for the 26th consecutive year, and was one of the warmest in 75 years. People in BC were hit hard with climate change impacts – the heat-dome in late June, which killed about 600 people, wildfires that destroyed the town of Lytton and many hectares of forest, and then in November the atmospheric river causing floods and destruction of major highways, such as Highway 5, the Coquihalla Highway.

In March 2022, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Climate Report for February 2022, reported average global land and ocean surface temperature for January–February 2022 was 0.84°C (1.51°F) above the 20th century average of 12.1°C (53.8°F). This was the sixth warmest January–February period in the 143 year global record. It appears that with this datapoint we may already have reached human-induced global warming of 1.5 °F compared to pre-industrial times, which the 2015 Paris Agreement, and previous IPCC reports, estimated the world would reach around 2040. At the same time, in mid-March, 2022, while developing this Report, Antarctica temperatures spiked to 70°F, a temperature anomaly that would have been considered “impossible” and “unthinkable” only a few years ago.

The record of warnings continue….

In 2021, the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report Working Group 1 , AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis  which by the nature of how the report is produced is very cautious, stated that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere.

Observation #4: ALN was at least in good company with the scientists contributing to IPCC reports, recognizing the emergency was far outstripping our ability  to scale climate adaptation capacity-building fast enough.  In 2022…..IPCC AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability stated that “global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. Progress in adaptation planning and implementation has been observed across all sectors and regions, generating multiple benefits. However, adaptation progress is unevenly distributed with observed adaptation gaps.”

There was wider public recognition of the seriousness of the climate emergency

“More people think there’s conclusive evidence that climate change is happening. Three in four understand that human activity is causing climate change and two-thirds want governments to do more. But there is less consensus on the approach public policy should take. Canadians are divided both regionally and politically on whether we should develop our oil and gas reserves.

More frequent and severe weather events continue to put a spotlight on the impacts of climate change. Consumers are becoming more open and interested in zero-emission vehicles and are looking for ways to reduce their own emissions.

But strong leadership is still required to unite Canadians behind a plan to get to net-zero. The public is there, waiting to be led.”

For further details check out What do Canadians think (Abacus 2021)

Observation #5: The ALN project was able to ride the wave of a better informed public, and the disasters that kept unfolding opened the window for learning about climate adaptation. People who enrolled in ALN courses had rich conversations across sectors, geographies and disciplines, about the state of the climate crisis and what they might do, together. 


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Adaptation Learning Network Final Report Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Robin Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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