Instead of waiting to see how bad things will get, one community is tackling climate change issues head on. Canada's newest and most northern capital city is now reaching out around the globe for solutions that will ensure survival and growth whatever nature throws its way.
"Although we do not have a lot of financial means, The City of Iqaluit has done a lot of small to medium-sized projects that let us make progress against climate change," said Michèle Bertol, Director of the City's Planning and Lands Department. "We have changed our way of developing and have put in place policies for developing in a sustainable way for all of our subdivisions. The next step? We asked ourselves, 'What could we do further to help us make progress?' Arctic communities are very susceptible to the stresses of climate change. We knew about the International Polar Year and that triggered the first idea: How about if we tried to do something to catalyze some energy -- [to invite] forward thinkers on the issue of climate change to come together in Iqaluit?"
In 1999, Iqaluit (pronounced "ee-kal-oo-it" and formerly known as Frobisher Bay) became the capital of Canada's newest territory Nunavut. Since then, Iqaluit, with an expanding population that has already exceeded the 6,000 mark, has clocked in economic growth of over 18 percent and earned distinction as Canada's fastest growing community. Located in a zone of continuous permafrost on the southeastern tip of Baffin Island along Koojesse Inlet, this Arctic municipality's 52 square kilometers combine most of the amenities typical of a 21st Century capital city with natural and environmental benefits afforded by surrounding parks and undeveloped hinterland.
The result of Bertol's quest is the interdisciplinary Symposium "Planning for Climate Change: Weathering Uncertainty," which will be held in Iqaluit from July 20 to 23, 2008. The City has partnered with the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) and the Alberta Association (regional CIP affiliate for Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) to host what must be a groundbreaking "meeting of the minds" if practical solutions for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change are to be achieved.
Since weather data has only been systematically collected in the area since the early 1940s, there is some debate as to what is climate variability and what is climate change. Either way, Iqaluit and the Arctic are challenged by increased flooding, coastal erosion, frequency and intensity of storms, and ground instability caused by melting of the permafrost layer.
In 2002, Iqaluit joined the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) network, which currently consists of 152 Canadian municipal governments committed to reducing greenhouse gases and acting on climate change. PCP is a partnership between the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, (originally known as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), which has grown into a global network of more than 700 cities, towns, counties, and their associations. PCP, which receives financial support from FCM's Green Municipal Fund, encourages municipalities to undertake a "five-milestone" approach that begins with establishing a baseline against which targets for improvement may be set.
Baseline determination involved research and analysis of the city's infrastructure. According to the final report, "The City of Iqaluit's Climate Change Impacts, Infrastructure Risks & Adaptive Capacity Project , authored by Symposium coordinator Debbie Nielsen, the purpose of the Project "was to identify risks to [Iqaluit's] infrastructure (including buildings, roads, and water supply, wastewater treatment and waste disposal systems) and develop adaptation options ... . Consultations with community leaders, municipal staff, climate change experts and those who design, build and service infrastructure provided information on current risks to infrastructure, which was used to identify pertinent impacts and develop adaptation options for the City of Iqaluit."
These options ranged from educational programs and retrofits to policy changes and building standard amendments.
Since Iqaluit is hosting the Symposium, northern issues will be discussed, but both Bertol and Nielsen emphasize that presentations and papers about projects in southern communities and other countries are essential to foster creative thinking locally, expand on existing approaches and develop standards for extrapolations to Arctic criteria.
"We want to link the science with planning practices so there are practical results on the ground," said Nielsen, explaining the content will be presented in English and Inuktitut, and that the call for proposals deadline is November 30. "We hope to bring these different professions together to exchange knowledge and influence planning practices ... . We want to facilitate mutual learning, facilitate practical change and leave a legacy in the North."