Local Actions: The City of Saskatoon's Adaptation Strategy

The City of Saskatoon is proactively preparing itself to face impacts and mitigate risks to key infrastructure, programs and services posed by a warming climate and more frequent and intense storms through their Climate Action Plan. The Climate Action Plan was developed in 2019 and contains both the Low Emissions Community Plan to address mitigation and Local Actions: The City of Saskatoon’s Adaptation Strategy. Over the next 80 years, global climate models project that Saskatoon can expect: warmer overall temperatures; more hot days; increased precipitation; changes in precipitation timing; increasingly variable seasons and more intense storms. Given the wide reach and great uncertainty associated with the anticipated impacts, however, there is high potential to affect the City’s vision to be “a great place to live, work, learn, and play.” Failure to consider a range of changing climate conditions for long-term urban development, design, and strategic planning could result in asset damage, unexpected expenses, societal and economic suffering, and missed opportunity.

In response, Saskatoon’s Adaptation Strategy focuses on reducing the risks, damages, and impacts of climate change through infrastructure improvement projects, natural infrastructure, and emergency response programs. The Plan has two components: Local Actions: Saskatoon’s Adaptation Strategy (Part One and Part Two). The Strategy builds from the findings of their previous report and outlines tangible actions and initiatives for corporate climate adaptation that are organized into four resiliency focus areas: Decisions, Staff, Services, and Assets.

Understanding Impacts

Extreme weather events (or natural hazards) such as drought, wildfire, and flooding are part of Saskatchewan’s history and have significant economic repercussions for the region. The 2001-2002 drought caused a reduction in agricultural production of more than $1.6 billion. The forest fires in Saskatchewan in 2015 cost in excess of $100 million, destroyed over 1.7 million hectares, and forced more than 10,000 people to evacuate their homes in northern communities. To understand how Saskatchewan’s climate will change in the future, climate projections were gathered from the Canadian Centre for Climate Services and the Climate Atlas of Canada, using data from 30 global climate models adjusted to produce locally specific results. The results show that over the next 80 years, global climate models project that Saskatoon can expect: warmer overall temperatures; more hot days; increased precipitation; changes in precipitation timing; increasingly variable seasons and more intense storms. A 2018 report from the Saskatchewan Research Council completed a province-wide risk analysis of natural hazards in Saskatchewan. The report plots the overall risk (consequences severity and likelihood) of a plausible worst-case scenario for each type of natural hazard under current and projected future climate conditions. The plausible worst-case scenarios come from actual experiences within the province’s last 100 years. Results from the report suggest changing climate conditions will slightly increase the risk of experiencing natural hazards throughout the province. For example, warmer temperatures will increase demand on the water and waste water utility and delivery system.

Identifying Actions

The City followed ICLEI Canada’s Building Adaptive and Resilient Communities (BARC) program to guide them through the development of their adaptation strategy. The first report includes an overview of climate projections gathered from the Canadian Centre for Climate Services and the Climate Atlas of Canada, using data from 30 global climate models adjusted to produce locally specific results. The report highlights three major areas that the City’s climate is expected to change as it becomes warmer, wetter and wilder under a changing climate. Once City staff reviewed the local climate data, collaborative risk analysis workshops were held to identify key impacts and risks to city operations. Key divisions included storm water management; corporate risk; asset management; parks management; emergency management and preparedness; sustainability; facilities management; power generation; and emissions reduction. Throughout these workshops, key climate risks were identified and evaluated for each division. Once the City identified the risks that climate change poses to it’s municipal operations, the risks were prioritized using the BARC program’s framework. The high-ranking risks were then prioritized for action planning and implementation (covered in Part 2). Actions identified in the Corporate Climate Adaptation Strategy are specific to increasing resilience for corporate operations and are organized into four focus areas:

• Decisions: Thinking Strategically about Tomorrow, Today
• Staff: A Safe, Healthy, and Productive Culture
• Services: Prepared for Change and Ready to Serve
• Assets: Designing and Building for Tomorrow’s Saskatoon.

ICLEI Canada 5 Milestone Approach to Climate Adaptation

Local Actions: Saskatoon’s Adaptation Strategy (Local Actions) is focused on proactive adaptation and preparing the City for changing climate trends in order to limit disruptions and negative impacts on their citizens, services, and infrastructure. The development of Local Actions is following the iterative five milestone approach from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) Canada organization.

Implementation

Actions identified in the Corporate Climate Adaptation Strategy are specific to increasing resilience for corporate operations and are organized into four focus areas: Decisions, Staff, Services, and Assets. Actions were identified through reviewing relevant literature and consulting with staff. After identifying existing actions in place at the City, proactive measures were identified to address each of the high-ranking risks for each of the four focus areas. Actions were then prioritized for planning and budgeting purposes based on the timeline for implementation: near-term (1-2 years), mid-term (3-6 years) and long-term (7-10 years). Priority is given to those actions that will address the greatest number of risks, or that will address the risks with the potential for highest impact. Actions were identified specific to City staff in order to ensure work conditions at the City remain healthy and safe. The Strategy also addresses actions specific to increasing capacity to maintain set levels of service for the community and increasing the climate resilience of City infrastructure and assets. For example:

  • Actions under “Decisions” include: Create Administrative Procedure and Standard Work documents to support the consideration of climate change projections, positive and negative risk to operations, and resiliency options creation as part of the implementation of the Triple Bottom Line Policy.
  • An action under “Staff” includes: Ensure pest preparedness and extreme heat/cold internal safety training and processes consider the diversity of the City’s workforce.
  • An action under “Services” includes: Define options to increase flexibility in seasonal equipment turnover practices to improve readiness for highly variable weather and emergencies.
  • Finally, an action under “Assets” includes: Network and share information with other municipalities that will likely experience Saskatoon’s projected climate conditions.

There was no specific funding allocated toward the implementation of the Corporate Climate Adaptation Strategy in the 2020/2021 budget. However, progress was made through other actions including the Triple Bottom Line Policy and framework which has been rolled out across the Corporation, updates to the Official Community Plan, improvements to evacuation processes, and work on the Corporate Asset Management Policy and system.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Key performance indicators were developed with the expectation that they will be reported publicly to keep the City accountable for implementation. Both implementation and impact measures were developed. The Climate Action Plan: 2020 Progress Report, the first since the Climate Action strategies were developed, provides an update on the City’s emissions, the status and accomplishments related to each of the actions, risks and barriers to completing the actions, and recommended next steps.

Next Steps

Once the City completed the risk assessment, they planned collaborative engagement with key stakeholders and residents to review the results. The engagement was also planned to ensure that the priorities identified in the risk assessment aligned with those of their community. The Corporate Climate Adaptation Strategy does not include broader community actions. The City plans to prepare a comprehensive community adaptation plan as a third phase to the Local Actions Strategy. The next steps for the Administration will also focus on digging deeper into the risk assessment outcomes and completing additional internal and key external engagement and collaboration events