A changing climate will have a significant impact on the Canadian prairies and there is a need for more proactive adaptation and resilience planning.
Timely, accurate and credible information about climate change will be an important factor to assist communities and organizations to plan for these changes.
A new non-profit organization was launched during a virtual event on Jan. 19 to serve as a one-stop regional hub for information to support climate adaptation efforts on the prairies.
ClimateWest is a collaborative undertaking with provincial support from the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as federal support from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The three founding partners of ClimateWest are the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC) at the University of Regina, the Prairie Climate Centre (PCC) at the University of Winnipeg, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), with headquarters in Winnipeg.
ClimateWest Executive Director Jane Hilderman said the new organization has an ambitious mission to reach across sectors to build greater climate resilience in the prairie region.
“All regions in Canada have work to do on this front, but I think there's a unique need and a unique opportunity in the prairies right now,” she said during the virtual launch. “The prairies already have one of the most variable climates and not just in Canada, but on earth. So while there's a long history of being resilient here, climate change is already pushing our limits, whether that be for example weather that's more extreme and volatile.”
It is therefore necessary to change the way things are done, but the critical question becomes how to make decisions differently. ClimateWest wants to play a role as a climate services provider to assist decision-makers on the prairies, because many organizations such as local authorities, watershed associations or small businesses might not have the in-house knowledge to interpret climate data for risk assessment and planning purposes.
She noted that the term climate services is still a new concept, and ClimateWest will draw on the experience and knowledge available within the three founding partners.
“At it's heart climate services are really about supporting decision-making and planning to take advantage of the best available evidence, data and knowledge about our current and future climate in order to address climate risk and climate opportunities,” she said.
ClimateWest’s intention is to offer climate services in three ways. The first way will be to make climate information more accessible, user friendly and relevant to the prairies.
“That means tailoring it for specific sectors and helping it be accessible to communities, businesses, governments who are turning to us for trusted answers,” she said. “And under this ClimateWest is going to offer a help desk available via e-mail or telephone to answer queries about climate data and climate information.”
The second role of ClimateWest in offering climate services will be to provide training and tools that will assist organizations with climate adaptation. The third way will be for ClimateWest to be a public champion for climate adaptation in the region.
“We look forward to sharing the success stories from across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba more widely in the coming years,” she said.
The speakers during the launch event included Terry Duguid, the parliamentary secretary to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and Saskatchewan Minister of Environment Warren Kaeding.
Duguid said the launch of ClimateWest is an important step towards the goal to create a national network of regional climate service hubs that provides Canadians with accessible climate data, information, tools and training. He noted that the prairies experience more climate extremes than any other Canadian region.
“And as we experience these more extreme weather events – floods, droughts, heat waves – our communities need reliable and timely information to make sound decisions and to keep us safe, and that's why ClimateWest is so essential,” he mentioned.
Kaeding said the building of resilience to the impact of climate change is a fundamental component of the Saskatchewan government’s Prairie Resilience Climate Change strategy.
“Our approach to climate change is multi-faceted,” he noted. “It's about protecting people and communities while working to reduce emissions in the province. We recognize that even if we could slash our provincial emissions to zero by tomorrow, that the global climate will still continue to change. This is something much bigger than any one jurisdiction. Our province is actively working to reduce emissions in an economically sound manner while better preparing our communities, industries and people for a changing climate.”
The launch of ClimateWest takes place shortly after the release in December 2020 of a regional perspectives report by Natural Resources Canada about the impact of climate change on the three prairie provinces.
That report indicates that prairie ecosystems will shift and transform as the climate warms, extreme weather events are getting worse, and the changing climate will have positive and negative benefits for agriculture.
ClimateWest will become part of a network of regional climate service providers that works closely with Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Canadian Centre for Climate Services. The other existing service providers are the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium to serve British Columbia and Yukon region and Ouranos for Quebec.
More information about ClimateWest is available online at the website www.climatewest.ca