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Climate West - Connecting Rural Communities to Relevant and Credible Climate Data

Accurate, timely, and accessible data is critical for making informed decisions. Drawing on the guidance of its three founding partner organizations (Prairie Climate Centre, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the Prairies Regional Adaptation Collaborative), ClimateWest understands the Prairies need tailored climate solutions.

Today, we have a wealth of climate information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, not all of this information is correct or relevant to our unique contexts. How do we know if we are using the right tools when planning for our region?

ClimateWest is the regional hub for climate services in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba that seeks to provide credible data and resources, bridging the data gap for municipalities across the Prairies. We spoke to Bryce Gallant, the Network Coordinator at ClimateWest, and Cameron Hunter, a Policy Advisor from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, to learn how quality data can influence rural climate adaptation plans.

We asked Bryce: What makes ClimateWest unique in how it serves the Prairie region?

“There’s a huge diversity among rural communities, adaptation is not a one-size-fits-all process. Our mandate is to deliver timely, useful, and credible climate information, data, and tools tailored to the Prairies region, in support of positive adaptation to climate change. We do this by drawing on the strengths of our three founding partner organizations, which provide the expertise and capacity to deliver on ClimateWest’s mandate. Basically, if you have any questions related to the Prairies and climate information/data, reach out to us.”

How To Find Climate Data?

Climate data and climate information are broad terms that can include a wide range of data sources, including historically observed data recorded at weather stations across Canada, future climate projections like those generated from global climate models (GCMs), as well as other forms of information including Traditional Knowledge and other local knowledge systems. But, how do you find the right data for your community? The answer, of course, varies based on your specific context, experience, and needs.

When looking at future climate projections, there are multiple components to consider: the greenhouse gas emission scenario(s), climate variables, scale, time-frame, and models available. Luckily for us in Canada, we have access to several credible and accurate data sources, including the Climate Atlas of Canada and, that provide us with climate information appropriate for data users of all experience levels. It’s critical for everyone—from those working directly in climate adaptation to those who’ve only ever just heard of the concept—to understand what the situation is, and what needs to be done.

Making climate data accessible is key. ClimateWest has a number of resources that can help bridge that gap and empower communities to find accurate and informative data that enables adaptation planning.

ClimateWest: Resources for Rural Regions

ClimateWest seeks to connect rural communities to data and information that facilitates community climate adaptation planning.

Their publication, A Guide To Finding Climate Information and Data, “focuses specifically on climate information needs of the prairie provinces in Canada, where different kinds of climate data reside, basics for how to use the information, and how it can be used for climate change adaptation planning.”

ClimateWest also recently hosted a webinar series, Tools for Municipal Adaptation Planning, which focus on how to navigate climate databases and apply information to the rural context.

Additionally, ClimateWest offers a help desk where you can get answers to your questions regarding accessing and applying climate data within your municipality, free of charge. The Help Desk can offer support with locating the most relevant data and understanding its implications as well as provide guidance on the integration of climate data into decision-making.

Floods, Droughts, Forest Fires: What Climate Events Do Rural Communities Need To Adapt To?

While the Prairie provinces have always been hubs of extreme weather, climate change is altering the kinds of weather we will experience now and for years to come. What will these changes look like? And how might these changes affect rural municipalities?

Bryce tells us “6/10 of Canada’s most costly extreme weather events since 2010 have occurred on the Prairies”. And it’s likely these events will only worsen in frequency and severity. We have to be prepared.

Weather changes may bring about more flooding, droughts, forest fires, and increasingly severe storms. This has a direct impact on our communities’ roads, buildings, pipelines, and other infrastructure. Water resources, especially the timing of our spring thaw and the amount of rain in spring and summer will also change in the coming years.

We asked Bryce what we can do, and she said, “Planning for these impacts increases the resilience of Alberta communities, and can reduce the high financial implications if the damage can be mitigated or avoided altogether.”

If you want to learn more about how the Prairie provinces will be impacted by climate change, view Canada in a Changing Climate: National Issues.

Rural Resilience and Climate Adaptation: The Barriers and Long-Term Strengths of Prairie Municipalities

“Communities throughout the Prairies have already been adapting to shifts in weather between seasons. The variability in the climate is what makes this region so unique. Communities themselves already show a large degree of resilience.” - Cameron Hunter, International Institute for Sustainable Development

Rural communities are diverse, unique, and often have a strong sense of community and connection to the land. But, they also face diverse and unique barriers that urban centers may not encounter.

A recent regional survey, conducted by the Prairies Regional Adaptation Collaborative, revealed useful insights from Prairie communities, including challenges they face when it comes to climate adaptation planning. These include:

  • Limited staff members, staff time, or staff skills

  • Lack of financial resources

  • Other pressing community concerns

  • Lack of data relevant to their area or capabilities

The huge diversity among rural communities in location, staff, climate change impacts, and capacity can make it difficult to know where to start. As Bryce says, “It may require a lot more time on the community’s part to understand and implement guidelines that are actually tailored to their needs. To build resilience to climate change, developing a solid adaptation plan is crucial.”

Where Does Climate Adaptation Begin?

“More than 80% of municipalities and Indigenous communities on the Prairies are or have experienced unusually extreme weather or related weather events in the past 10 years. Municipalities are worried about damage to critical transportation infrastructure, changes to their agriculture sector, and the growing season [spring/summer]. We’re really seeing that rural communities are on the frontlines of climate change, so these communities also need to be proactively planning for their future climates now to stave off any negative impacts.” - Cameron Hunter, IISD

So what does it take to start planning for climate change?

The first step, according to ClimateWest, is understanding the changes that will happen in your area. Changes reveal risks or vulnerabilities in the current infrastructure. With the necessary data, municipalities can create a climate adaptation plan that makes sense for them. This may mean updating facility infrastructure to promote cooling, planting trees, or creating emergency response plans to extreme weather events.

Most importantly, Cameron says “A good adaptation plan is really responsive to a community’s unique circumstances and needs, and here at ClimateWest, we are always looking for ways to support communities' needs at all of the different stages of the adaptation planning process.”

How Are Rural Communities Adapting Already?

Climate adaptation is a process, and with warmer summers, wetter springs, and other weather changes already occurring, it’s a process that is important to begin soon.

Many rural communities are taking steps to improve their resilience to climate change. In southern Alberta, Wheatland County has established the East Strathmore Solar Project, to improve renewable energy access. In Bruderheim, Gibbons, and Lamont, Resilient Rurals has played a significant role in facilitating climate adaptation in a wide variety of projects, including conducting community assessments, implementation plans, and various communication strategies.

Despite the diversity in background, history, and climate events, rural communities have one thing in common: their ability to rise to any weather challenge. Without this strength and resilience, life in Canada’s Prairie provinces would not thrive. It’s time to apply this resilience to climate adaptation, and ClimateWest seeks to help rural municipalities do just that.

Introducing Rural Showcase...

A dynamic network of resilience leaders are working in and among rural communities across Canada. Resilient Rurals' Rural Showcase highlights the prominent champions channelling their expertise and passion to empower rural communities, advance climate adaptation and enhance the local environment.

Connect with local leaders, hear their stories and learn from their expertise.

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