Project targets climate resilience post-COVID-19

Special to Western NewsGeography professor emeritus Gord McBean has received a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Knowledge Synthesis Grant to look at how communities across Canada can advance climate-resilience to reduce the risk of adverse climate impacts and damage.

Gord McBean sees an opportunity to hit the reset button.

“The COVID-19 pandemic happened. When we come out of it – and we will come out of it – let’s come out in a way that is more proactive to rebuilding society in a way that is climate resilient, more friendly for all people,” said the Geography professor emeritus and Research Chair at Western’s Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).

“We have been presented with a challenge. Let’s respond to it in multiple and actively progressive ways. We can address more than one issue. Let’s not simply come out of this and rebuild things the way they were; let’s build it the way it can be and should be.”

McBean will make strides towards this goal with his project Building Climate Resilient Communities – Living Within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity, one of two Western-led initiatives named among 31 nationwide research projects earning a Knowledge Synthesis Grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) officials announced last week.

Launched in 2012, the new $1.5-million funding opportunity promotes a better understanding of the productive capacity of global ecosystems, as well as the connections between natural and human systems and their role in a healthy and sustainable future.

Women’s Studies and Feminist Research professor Bipasha Baruah’s project, What does degrowth say about gender equality and social justice? Synthesizing the evidence, was also funded for its exploration of the impact planned economic contraction and environmental sustainability would have on issues surrounding gender equality and social justice.

Research shows Canada warming at twice the global average rate and the Canadian Arctic at three times that. McBean expects this to continue for decades.

Confronting trends like these presents challenges for individuals, communities, and governments.

While most of the talk about climate change is about reducing emissions – COVID-19 restrictions, interestingly enough, have lowered emissions significantly – that does not solve the problem. “Reducing emissions is important, but we also need to use adaptation and resilience,” he said.

“You’re going to get more extreme events with this for the next number of decades. We need to reduce our vulnerability and build out resilience so we’re not in a society whomped by climate change.”

Building Climate Resilient Communities will examine relevant literature and information from all levels of government, including First Nations communities, to assess the current knowledge on methods, approaches and other aspects of building resilient communities in Canada and globally.

Working alongside ICLR Executive Director Paul Kovacs, Engineering professor Greg Kopp, Geography chair Jamie Voogt and ICLR Manger (Partnership Development) Sophie Guilbault, McBean will provide guidance for informing policy and practice in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The research will address four areas:

  1. Cost-effective actions to reduce existing risks;
  2. Risk-prevention opportunities created through the planning of urban and community areas to reduce exposure to heat, floods, and water levels;
  3. Design and construction of infrastructure to reduce exposure and vulnerability; and
  4. Financial, socio-culture and economic impacts of risks and impacts.

“We want to get this out as an academic and scientific report. Equally as important, however, is we want a summary of research-backed information for policy-makers and city mangers to use as part of their planning process,” McBean said.

“When a tragic event happens, let’s take advantage of that by looking at what happened and asking what we can do better. Tragic events often lead to action.”