Building adaptive capacity in coastal communities

Tools to cope with climate change

Displacement of homes in New Brunswick

When a big storm hits, affecting property and quality of life, people are overcome, more than anything, by feelings of vulnerability and injustice. Given the current context of changing climate conditions, how can we prepare coastal communities to face the situation?

“By counting on the resilience and organizational capacity of citizens,” suggests geographer Steve Plante.

A professor in the department of society, land and development at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, Plante is co-director of the Coastal Communities Challenges Community-University Research Alliance (CCC-CURA), a project bringing together 22 researchers and 11 partners. The CCC-CURA is working with a number of communities along the shores of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, mainly in Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“It’s important to work together with residents and groups concerned with land management in the targeted communities,” says Plante. “This ensures the development of a communal knowledge base that will be as useful for the communities involved as for local organizations.”

To share this model with others, the CCC-CURA has introduced a summer institute to train facilitators and group leaders, in English and French, to work with local communities. In addition, the CCC-CURA has designed a kit to guides communities in assessing their resilience in the face of extreme weather events; the kit has been made available to four Quebec communities. The advantage to this kind of model is that it helps people better anticipate the effects of a natural disaster, the impact of which is obviously out of the control of residents.

The entire process takes time; it is important not to rush.

“Following an extreme weather event, people want action, they want to see concrete steps taken quickly,” says Plante. “Our approach encourages them instead to take the time to carefully plan things out.”

Moreover, talking about resilience leads residents to take ownership of the decision-making process and of gaining project management knowledge.

“What we are essentially talking about is what communities are, how they learn and how they integrate these learnings into future actions,” he says.

First and foremost, the CCC-CURA is an advocate for active cooperation between researchers, partners and citizens. Its main goal is to help coastal communities strengthen their capacity for governance and resilience, to begin considering how the local impacts of climate change can be better managed. In addition to its continuing contact with communities, the alliance has an ongoing relationship with French researchers inspired by its approach.

The CCC-CURA presented its findings to the scientific community at the 2013 Congrès de l’Association francophone pour le savoir.

Research funded by SSHRC: Challenges of coastal communities in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence in a time of climate change