Being climate resilient as a city means eventually incorporating climate change into every decision that gets made. This is exactly what the City of Thunder Bay in Ontario is aiming to do with their Climate Ready City plan.
In 2013, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI Canada were involved in the creation of a program called EarthCare in Thunder Bay that would help the newly hired City Sustainability Manager be better connected to the concerns of the community. The program held monthly meetings of 11 different working groups consisting of between 6-12 active members as well as members who get email updates. Each working group has a different focus on climate; from adaptation and green spaces to water, waste, air quality and more. The working groups are made up of community organizations, representatives from business sectors and different levels of government including the Province.
With support from the executive level of the city, the sustainability office was able to bring people to the table that may not normally prioritize climate in their day-to-day work and encourage them to start talking about how climate could be part of everyday planning.
The initial conversations were 12 workshops held with city managers, city staff and the EarthCare working groups. From the list of hundreds of potential climate impacts that could affect Thunder Bay, the list was narrowed down to 76 impacts that are already being felt in the city.
By focusing on impacts already being experienced, the sustainability team was able to start conversations in the present – tapping into local knowledge and experience. This was important as most of the climate data available to the team is provincial data and not localized enough to the specific challenges of Thunder Bay. It also allowed the participants to avoid debating the science of climate change or the reality of climate impacts, which was important for advancing the conversation towards solutions.
The biggest challenge Thunder Bay faced in creating their climate strategy was competing priorities. When many city staff are already stretched thin, many don’t have the capacity to add climate as well. This challenge was successfully overcome with the addition of a full time staff member who can undertake outreach, which was made possible by the support from the City Council and executive management team.
After hosting a total of 20 workshops, 22 interviews, two surveys, a crowdsourcing process and a public reception, the Climate Ready City plan has been adopted and will be rolled out over the next six years with regular updates and progress reports.
The next steps for Thunder Bay will be tailored communications outreach, and beginning the implementation process. Once completed, it is hoped that their methodology can be replicated by other communities of the same size looking to support climate readiness.
image via City of Thunder Bay