Using climate information to drive adaptation: Integrating climate risks within municipal projects

The city of Windsor, Ontario, has experienced numerous severe rain events causing flooding, with the most significant flood event occurring in August 2017. Approximately 6,000 homes were flooded in 2017 and insured damages exceeded $124M, with the city spending $1.7M in recovery work. Extreme heat events are also of concern in the city, with heat-related health concerns rising significantly for every degree higher than 28oC. The historic 2017 flood and recent extreme heat events provided the impetus for the city to update its 2012 climate change adaptation plan. The resulting City of Windsor: Degrees of Change, Climate Change Adaptation Plan was published in 2020. With the new adaptation plan in place, climate change risk assessment is now standard practice in the municipal process so that every decision has a climate dimension.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Windsor, Ontario, is uniquely located as the southernmost city in Canada with a population of nearly 220,000. The city is located within Essex County, along the Detroit River, with Lake St. Clair to the northwest. Essex County is exposed to variable lake levels, in which Windsor has the lowest percentage of forest cover of any region in Ontario. Over the past two decades, the city has experienced numerous severe rain events causing flooding, with the most significant flood event occurring in August 2017. Heavy, localized downpours particularly impacted the east side of Windsor and the Tecumseh area in 2016, only to be repeated in the same neighbourhoods in 2017, at which time the city center and south Windsor were also affected. Approximately 6,000 homes were flooded in 2017 and insured damages exceeded $124M, with the city spending $1.7M in recovery work. Indirectly, mental health impacts resulted from the stress of the floods, particularly individuals living in the hard-hit Riverside neighbourhood.

While flooding has been a key issue in Windsor, extreme heat events are also of concern in the city, with heat-related health concerns rising significantly for every degree higher than 28⁰C. In addition, increasing temperatures have led to a higher risk of diseases such as West Nile and Lyme diseases in the area. Urban trees have also been impacted by climate events with high wind storms in 2017 and 2018, both significantly damaging trees throughout the city. Moreover, insect pests, such as the ash borer and diseases such as oak wilt, are thriving in higher temperatures and a number of tree species in the municipality are already at their upper temperature limits.

A Climate Change Risk Section – Guidance Document was developed to assist staff in planning for adaptation (assessing and addressing climate change risks) and demonstrating greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation in council reports on municipal projects and initiatives. The Document provides climate projections, including baseline and future variables for temperature, precipitation and water levels/temperature.

The Climate Change Risk Section – Guidance Document attempts to reduce barriers to considering climate risk in all municipal projects. It requires staff from across the organization to account for climate change and to place it within the public record, which allows for citizen input.

With the new adaptation plan in place, climate change risk assessment is now standard practice in the municipal process so that every decision has a climate dimension.

Use of Climate Information

Data sources for the Guidance Document include climatedata.ca and research conducted by the University of Waterloo’s Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change. The Document also references detailed municipal maps, such as basement flooding risk maps from the city’s Sewer Master Plan. Down scaling of models was conducted for the Detroit River, with the future forecast considering risk for different climate futures, utilizing 1:5, 1:25 and 1:100 year storm scenarios. As more data becomes available, the models that the Guidance Document was based upon will be more detailed.

Identifying Actions

The historic 2017 flood and recent extreme heat events provided the impetus for the city to update its 2012 climate change adaptation plan. The resulting City of Windsor: Degrees of Change, Climate Change Adaptation Plan (the Plan) was published in 2020, and incorporated input from key stakeholders and the public. The Plan includes steps to accelerate adaptation actions and is accompanied by a Guidance Document that assists municipal employees in integrating climate risks into every council report.

Implementation

To date, the Climate Change Risk Section – Guidance Document has been used for a number of projects. For example, the climate risk section in a tree trimming contract presented reduced risk from tree-fall and tree death by maintaining tree health and reducing invasive species. Another example is the upgrade of one of the City’s recreation complex’s considering neighbouring sites that are at a higher risk of flood, even though it is not in a flood risk area.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

A number of opportunities as well as challenges arose during the development of the City of Windsor’s Guidance Document and Adaptation Plan. One of the largest challenges for the City of Windsor is education given that many municipal employees do not see how their project is susceptible to climate change impacts and/or risks. Yet by acknowledging climate risks via the Climate Change Risk Section – Guidance Document, city staff are obligated to look beyond the project to consider broader risks on neighbouring areas and beyond. With Covid-19, less training on the Guidance Document has occurred, but online seminars have resumed. Specifically, training sessions for report authors are planned and a climate change resource compendium will be shared with them.

Next Steps

Going forward, the City of Windsor plans to develop a more streamlined guidance on the climate risk section of project reports (a climate lens) and make it as user friendly as possible for report authors. As the climate lens is rolled out across departments, greater coordination with the clerk’s office will occur. Having corporate buy-in and memory of the process is also important for the continuity of the climate lens, so training new senior staff and elected officials will also be a priority. Ultimately, climate adaptation will be built into budget documents in the future.


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Shifting weather patterns, changing seasonality, and increases to average temperature have resulted in changes to the conventional patterns of disease vectors. Vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease, are becoming more prevalent in Canada as a direct result of climate change. Warmer temperatures in Canada have resulted in the expansion of vector-borne diseases transmitted by ticks, mosquitos, and other animals. As Canada’s climate continues to warm and increases in spring, summer, and fall season length has contributed to greater distribution of these species and their life cycles.

Lyme disease, carried by black-legged ticks, is the most common tick-borne disease in Canada. Various hosts for black-legged ticks include white-tailed deer, white-footed mouse, and migratory birds. White-footed mice habitat has been expanding northward at a rate of 10 km per year, and migratory bird patterns have been expanding northward at an accelerated pace due to climate change. This, in conjunction with warmer and more temperate fall seasons has resulted in the expansion of black-legged ticks, and the establishment of populations in places previously too cold to sustain them.

Mosquitos carry a host of VBDs, including West Nile virus, dengue, malaria, chikungunya, and Zika. Of primary concern now is the transmission of West Nile, considered the most health-endangering mosquito-borne illness in Canada. Though largely asymptomatic, severe cases of West Nile can be life threatening, and climate models demonstrate a growing geographic range in the spread of West Nile in Canada. Further, the less common vectors of malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika could become more likely as Canada experiences further warming.

Environmental trends related to warmer temperatures in Canada are predicted to increase the risk of acquiring Lyme and West Nile, as well as other mosquito and tick-borne diseases, and represent a public health concern in Canada, especially in at-risk populations such as those over 70, and childbearing persons.

Identifying Actions

The development of guidelines employed an evidence-informed, modified-Delphi approach relying on stakeholder input, guideline revision, and expert panel consultation to build consensus.

CASN established a pan-Canadian advisory committee of experts to establish an environmental scan of the baseline knowledge, skills, and attitudes that entry-level nurses should possess in regards to VBDs and climate change. This included a scoping review and literature review of existing nursing-specific and interprofessional resources, regulatory and/or educational competencies, and other relevant Canadian and international documents. The findings of the literature review were revised, analyzed, synthesized, and developed into a draft document of learning outcomes for nurses.

This draft and the findings of the advisory committee were shared with over 50 stakeholders National Stakeholder Forum comprising multiple sectors including nursing education, nursing regulation, nursing employers, practicing nurses, public health organizations, government, nursing students, and persons with lived experience of VBDs in Canada. This feedback was then reviewed and through a national validation survey by a multi-stakeholder group that included all nursing programs in Canada, CASN’s network, as well as project stakeholders and Forum attendees. Further, the education guidelines underwent both gender-informed and Indigenous reviews to ensure gender-equity, the perspectives of marginalized populations, and the integration of Indigenous perspectives and experiences into the guidelines.

Finally, the Climate Driven Infectious Disease (CDID) Committee, a group of dedicated experts in climate-driven infectious disease and nursing who developed the domains and learning outcomes delineated in this document, reviewed all comments and made revisions to the education guidelines based on the results of the validation survey and the expert reviews. The guidelines were then translated into English and French.

Implementation

The finalized guidelines, available in the Guidelines for Undergraduate Nursing Education on Climate-Driven Vector Borne Diseases report, are also part of an open-access e-resource found at https://vbd.casn.ca/. The guideline consists of five domains:

  • Domain 1: Public Health – Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases
  • Domain 2: Populations Exposed to Potential Risks
  • Domain 3: Prevention (Primary and Secondary)
  • Domain 4: Treatment (Tertiary Prevention)
  • Domain 5: Advocacy

Each domain is accompanied by detailed learning outcomes (37 in total) to help clarify what must be learned in a course or program, offer direction for the selection of learning outcomes, and provide benchmarks for the assessment of the learning. Further, these learning outcomes provide targets for graduates of baccalaureate nursing programs to achieve in the area of climate-driven vector-borne infectious diseases.

The e-resource is targeted at nursing faculty, students, nurses in practice, and other health professionals. It aims to:

  • Support the integration of learning outcomes within CASN’s Guidelines for Undergraduate Nursing Education on Climate-Driven Vector-Borne Disease into entry-level nursing curricula across the country.
  • Provide faculty, students and practicing nurses with information, teaching and learning materials, and tools related to the education guidelines
  • Impart the knowledge and skills to help build nursing capacity to work with populations whose health is, or may be, affected by climate change driven infectious diseases.

Resources

Link to the Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

Further understand how climate information can be applied in decision-making by exploring the Health Module on ClimateData.ca