In June 2011, the City of Whitehorse, Yukon contributed to the growing momentum of cities around the world acting on climate adaptation through release of its Whitehorse Community Adaptation Plan (abbreviated as WhiteCAP). WhiteCAP, an initiative led by Northern Climate Exchange (NCE), is a plan that assesses how climate change may positively or negatively affect Whitehorse over the next 50 years. Full details can be found in the PDF report.

WhiteCAP, like BC’s District of Elkford’s plan, is comprehensive in its approach to adaptation planning, premised on preparing for variability and uncertainty; building capacity; building knowledge; building resilience; building partnerships and enhancing sustainability for the well-being of the community. This process is referred to as adaptive capacity, which refers to the ability of a system to adjust to climate change, moderate potential damages, take advantage of opportunities, and cope with consequences.

Research projects that climate change in the Yukon will enhance and/or change the frequency of occurrence of key environmental stresses (forest fires, flooding and weather fluctuations). For instance, with mean annual precipitation anticipated to increase by 14% to 22% by 2050 while winter temperatures rise, snowfall will become more damp and heavy, posing structural challenges such as exceeding the loading capacity of buildings.

A key lesson from WhiteCAP that we would like to highlight here is that institutional capacity (the ability of institutions such as government departments to respond to climate change) is significantly stronger than individual capacity. Institutional responses to environmental stresses have been effective, such as recent improvements to infrastructure, upgrading personnel capacity, and improving the quality/quantity of equipment. However, despite this strong adaptive capacity, rapid and unpredictable changes in climate in the coming years could render such institutional responses less effective.

In light of this, WhiteCAP aims to improve individual capacity to adapt, including augmenting the linkages between institutions and individuals. In Whitehorse, individuals tend to heed evacuation warnings concerning potential forest fires or flooding risks, but require institutional support for knowing where to find shelter and safety. Institutional support through educational programs, and ensuring the community is aware of the benefits associated with city programs such as FireSmart, will be indispensable for future adaptation programs, especially on an individual level.

The WhiteCAP document is not only comprehensive in scope and detail, but also premised on collaboration through partnerships. The plan states that a number of stakeholders will be involved throughout in the development and implementation of adaptation actions, including the City of Whitehorse, the Yukon government, Ta’an Kwäch’än and Kwanlin Dün First Nations, community groups, private sector groups and Yukon College.

This innovative example speaks to good governance, as multiple stakeholders who are impacted by the decisions are actively involved in the process. Importantly, both in water management and adaptation, issues are becoming increasingly complex and beyond the capacity of government. Hence, the rise of governance, as evidenced in the NWT, and in WhiteCAP, as a promising way forward that should not be overlooked by southern jurisdictions in Canada.