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Niagara Communities Take Reins On Climate Adaptation Planning

Increasingly battered by the impacts of the climate crisis, a coalition of towns and cities in the Niagara region of Ontario has partnered with Brock University to prepare individualized climate adaptation plans for their communities.

Representing some 350,000 residents and a region that encompasses “nationally-vital highway corridors and shipping routes, prime farmland, economically important tourism destinations and the heart of Ontario’s C$4-billion grape and wine industry,” the members of Niagara Adapts (St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lincoln, Welland, Pelham, and Grimsby) understand the urgent need to build climate adaptation into city plans, writes Jessica Blythe, assistant professor at Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, in a recent op-ed for the Toronto Star.

“Increasingly erratic weather and miles of Great Lake shoreline” are proving the perfect petri dish for violent storms like the one that hammered Lincoln (pop. 24,000) in 2017, causing more than $1 million in damage to public infrastructure.

Alert to the rising frequency of such extreme weather events, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre reached out to Niagara-region municipalities, offering to supply the necessary expertise to help each develop their own individualized climate adaptation plans. For the communities, climate adaptation could mean modifying sewers and drains for storm surges, restricting development in flood-prone areas, or prepping transit services for extreme weather. For residents, it can be as simple as planting a shade tree in the yard, or readying a 72-hour emergency survival kit.

While the combination of research expertise and city staff know-how has been critical to the success of Niagara Adapts, public input was strongly encouraged, and very highly valued.

“All participants agreed that everybody in a community, not just officials, must understand their vulnerability to climate change and help inform the best response strategy,” writes Blythe.

A series of public surveys and in-person forums helped Niagara Adapts understand and respond to community climate concerns, some of which would otherwise have been missed or overlooked.

Olivia Groff, climate change adaptation coordinator for the City of St. Catharines, praised the decision to prioritize public engagement: “If everyone considers this challenge in their own personal life and becomes part of the response, then the entire community can become more resilient.”

Critically, the surveys also revealed “growing alarm about climate change.” More than four of every five respondents supported spending tax dollars to develop an adaptation plan for their community.