Climate change and environment

Adebayo Majekolagbe
Dalhousie University

The need for “just” climate transitions

Why climate policies must consider the impacts on the most vulnerable

When assessing the impacts of climate change policies, it’s not enough to look at emission reductions. The unintended consequences of these policies on vulnerable populations also need to be considered. Adebayo Majekolagbe, a doctoral candidate and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, is developing an impact assessment framework that will help governments transition away from fossil fuels in a way that’s fair and just for everyone.

Majekolagbe says a “just transition” is one that focuses not only on carbon footprint gains and losses but makes the enhancement of the well-being of the most vulnerable people one of its core objectives. But we’re not there just yet. For example, even with government subsidies, the price of electric vehicles may still be out of reach for many families. Or a plan to offset the shutdown of a coal plant by creating new jobs at a solar farm may be unjust if the transition negatively affects family cohesion, mental health, and community vitality.

A first-of-its kind framework

To help policy-makers, Majekolagbe has been reviewing climate impact assessments from around the world to see what’s included (or, more often, what’s missing) in terms of just transitions. He will then use his findings to develop an all-new just transition impact assessment framework, which will help ensure meaningful discussions about the potential benefits and consequences of any green transition project on vulnerable populations are embedded as early as possible into climate-related policy and decision-making processes.

“This doesn’t mean we can’t take ambitious and urgent climate action. But we need to address the potential implications from the very start,” he says. “There is no cost-free climate response measure. It’s a question of who pays the price for whatever transition is occurring.”

Read Adebayo Majekolagbe’s papers on SSRN to learn more about his research.

Tristan Pearce
University of Northern British Columbia

A community approach to addressing climate change

Combining Indigenous knowledge and Western science for more meaningful responses

While climate change is a global challenge, the impacts are felt most strongly at the local level. Tristan Pearce, Canada Research Chair in Cumulative Impacts of Environmental Change at the University of Northern British Columbia, is working with communities across Canada and around the world to explore ways they can adapt and become more resilient to climate change.

In the Canadian Arctic, for example, Pearce is partnering with Inuit to understand how changes in the marine environment affect the fish and wildlife that Inuit depend on for subsistence. Central to his approach is knowledge co-production. The data collected comes through both Western science (such as sampling and aerial photography) and Indigenous knowledge systems, recognizing that Inuit have an intimate understanding of the changes happening in their environment.

This results in a more holistic view of climate change and the responses needed to address it. Pearce also ensures community members are involved in all stages of his research: they guide the identification of the research questions, collect and co-interpret data, and propose next steps based on local needs.

Climate change is happening now

Pearce says this project and others he’s working on internationally matter because climate change isn't something that will happen in the future—it’s occurring now. By identifying why and in which ways communities are vulnerable to climate-related stresses, his research intends to inform policy-makers at all levels—from local to global—on taking action.

“In a world where progress on mitigating climate change is failing far too many people, our solutions need to come from the bottom up,” he says. “We need to listen to people at the front lines of climate change and make decisions based on what their experiences are telling us.”

Visit the Environmental Change Research Group website to learn more about Tristan Pearce’s work.

Deborah McGregor
York University

Sharing Indigenous environmental knowledge

Why Indigenous voices are needed in climate change discussions

Indigenous Peoples have valuable perspectives and knowledge to contribute to climate change research, but too often their voices are not part of the conversation. Deborah McGregor, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice at York University, is providing the space needed to mobilize Indigenous knowledge so they can advocate for a self-determined climate future.

Indigenous communities have long used stories and other frameworks to observe changes in the environment. For example, the Anishinaabe 13-moon calendar is based on detailed understandings of the seasonal and annual cycles of nature, which can assist in identifying the impacts of climate change. Indigenous languages also play an essential role, as they have their own conceptions of the natural world that convey mutual relationships, responsibilities and obligations of care—many of which can’t be adequately expressed in English. These languages and the knowledge they embody may help in re-forging a sustainable relationship with the natural world. Yet Elders and Knowledge Keepers are typically not invited into academic, scientific, governance and political discussions to share their insights on climate change.

Finding space for Indigenous knowledge

McGregor is changing that through speaker series, podcasts and other forums where Indigenous knowledge and language in support of climate change futures can be shared in spaces where they will have influence. She hopes this will lead not just to better climate change science, research and governance, but also to practical resources for bringing Indigenous perspectives to the public. One such project in the works is a graphic novel that can help teach the 13-moon system to young people.

“Indigenous Peoples are often put in a position of responding to proposed solutions rather than generating our own,” McGregor says. “We’ve dealt with major environmental changes over thousands of years and have stories that can provide guidance and direction around that. We just need a space in which to tell those stories.”

Visit the Indigenous Environmental Justice Project website to learn more about Deborah McGregor’s research.

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