A new, government-funded, not-for-profit organization opened its doors Tuesday in Winnipeg, with the express purpose of helping the Prairie region recognize the risks, and potential opportunities, presented due to climate change.
ClimateWest will serve as a resource hub supported by some of the top climate-focused research organizations in the country: Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, based at the University of Regina; Prairie Climate Centre, based at the University of Winnipeg; and International Institute for Sustainable Development, with its headquarters in Winnipeg.
ClimateWest will focus on research and recommendations that address how communities will need to change and adapt in a warming world, instead of on the emissions-mitigation side of the equation.
"Our mandate is to support greater climate adaptation across the Prairies by empowering people, businesses, communities, governments to use climate information and data in their decision making," executive director Jane Hilderman said in an interview with the Free Press.
Hilderman said she knows, especially for smaller communities that can’t afford to bring someone on to the municipal payroll to look at climate change impacts, the amount of information available is daunting and hard to sort through. The hope is ClimateWest can help bridge the gap.
David Sauchyn, Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative director, said the time has come: adaptation must be a bigger part of the conversations had about climate change.
"PARC’s been in the adaptation business for more than 20 years now. Initially, when we were launched, people complained that we’d given up on climate change, that if you focus on adaptation then you’re assuming that the climate is changing. And people weren’t sure 20 years ago, now they’re absolutely certain the climate is changing," he said.
"So, even though mitigation is absolutely necessary to slow the rate of climate change, we know we’re living in a changed climate and therefore a certain amount of adaptation is required."
Economic analysis of adaptation costs proves time and time again investing in adaptation earlier rather than later is beneficial, he said.
The first order of business for ClimateWest will be to establish a help desk, which will provide a public service of answering climate adaptation questions.
"Whether it’s a small town trying to track down the most relevant climate data for its geography and region, whether it’s a city planner that’s wondering if they have the right kind of design specs in terms of building for anticipated weather extremes," Hilderman said, the vast research knowledge of the founding three partners will be tapped.
Sauchyn was one of the lead authors on a recent report released by Natural Resources Canada that identified how significant the impacts of climate change in the Prairies already have been, as well as how it will progress.
"Probably, the most challenging impact of climate change is going to be how it’s amplifying the severity of our weather. So, the wet seems to be getting wetter, the dry seems to be getting dryer," Sauchyn said.
Funding for the research hub comes from the Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta provincial governments, as well as the federal government.
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.