Following the historic wildfire season in Canada, and with the prospect that next year could be worse, leading national experts and government officials – including My Climate Plan Co-founder Adam Lynes-Ford – met at a summit in Ottawa this week to talk about how to protect households and communities from the impacts of climate change.
The backdrop to The National Climate Adaptation Summit Day was the raging fires and blanketing smoke that tore across the country this summer, which included over 6,100 fires and more than 15 million acres burned from coast to coast. Similarly, protecting communities from the impacts of wildfires was the overwhelming choice of My Climate Plan members for your first advocacy campaign.
Hosted by Climate Proof Canada, the summit comes in response to the National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) launched by the Government of Canada in June 2023, which included a list of targets across five key areas – disaster resilience, infrastructure, the natural environment, health and wellness, and the economy.
The summit featured a series of meetings with federal ministers to push for quick progress on the adaptation strategy, including a recommendation for an investment of $5.3B annually over six years.
The big question coming out of the summit is whether or not the Government of Canada will commit to this spend to protect people and communities across the country as climate impacts get worse.
Adam has been speaking with people in Ottawa including Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of Quebec and Labrador; and Catherine McKenna, Former Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada, about My Climate Plan members’ priorities for a climate safe future.
We asked him to share some of what he is seeing and hearing in the rooms where the future of Canada’s climate policy is being debated.
What’s at stake today at a national level, for the organizations and experts in the room, and for regular Canadians?
Adam: We’ve been hearing from representatives from across the country about the historic importance of this moment. I want to share a few perspectives that I think are particularly significant.
Abram Benedict, Grand Chief for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, spoke about what’s at stake for his communities in this region. He emphasized how the land is changing faster than ever before, and how it’s the responsibility of all of us – Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians – to meet this moment and take action. He made it clear that what’s at stake won’t just affect us, it’s about looking out for the generations that come after us.
We also heard from Conrad Sauve, CEO of the Canadian Red Cross. He mentioned that when he started at the Red Cross 25 years ago, almost all of their work was outside of Canada, with an occasional event that they responded to within the country. Today, 82% of their work is within Canada.
He noted that where previously the events they were responding to in Canada were one-offs, they are now ongoing and cyclical. This represents a major shift in both how climate change is impacting Canada, and the speed with which we need to respond.
Sauve also highlighted that in speaking with people who have been impacted, many were totally taken off guard by climate impacts like extreme weather events. They just didn’t have information about what the risks were in their communities and how to be prepared.
So many of us are more vulnerable to climate impacts than we realize. And those who are already the most vulnerable in our communities are being hit over and over again. This needs to be addressed simultaneously with taking action on climate change.
Can you tell us about the role of Indigenous leadership and governments at the conference and in the national plan?
Adam: Indigenous leaders at the summit highlighted the fact that many communities, especially those up north, are experiencing intense climate impacts and need increased emergency preparedness and response resources in order to keep their communities safe.
Aside from the need for adequate resources, the message was clear that Indigenous leaders need to be directly involved in decision-making and planning for climate adaptation and action.
Ghislain Picard, Regional Chief of Quebec and Labrador, specifically emphasized the importance of using the First Nations Climate Lens, which underpins the Assembly of First Nations’ Climate Strategy.
The First Nations Climate Lens, according to Chief Picard, is a tool designed to transition away from the overemphasis on ‘technological solutions’ and ‘market-based mechanisms’ towards an approach that centres First Nations’ rights, self-determination, and knowledge systems.
If the wildfire recommendations set out at the summit go forward, what kind of a difference would we see on the ground?
Adam: One of the first things we’d see is a push to help individuals and communities understand what their wildfire and smoke risks are in the places they live, in order to be better prepared – which is a key part of our work at My Climate Plan.
We would also have housing and infrastructure that’s much more resilient to fire so that we don’t see the total devastation that a lot of communities are experiencing.
The final piece would be wrap around supports to help get people and communities back on their feet when wildfires do come. So it covers everything from preparation and resilience against wildfires, to making sure people have the resources to recover from them.
Adam: I attended a talk with Mark Carney, U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, yesterday – he spoke about this moment as what author Salman Rushdie calls a “hinge moment” in history, when “everything is in flux … [and] the future is up for grabs.”
This moment is calling us to action and what’s at stake is how we respond to that call.
We want to thank our My Climate Plan Founding Members for making Adam’s trip to the summit possible. We also want to invite any reader who isn’t on our list to subscribe and respond to the call, as we prepare to launch our wildfire advocacy campaign.