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SFU receives $1 million to study climate impact on rural and remote communities

The project will work with community members to craft solutions and promote policy changes
The project exemplifies SFU's strategic priorities of community engagement and community-focused research.

In the latest effort to combat the devastating effects of climate change on rural and remote communities, Simon Fraser University (SFU) has received $1 million in funding from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) at the University of Victoria (UVic).

Spearheaded by SFU economist and professor in the School of Public Policy, Dr. Nancy Olewiler, working with researchers at SFU, UVic and others, the research will focus on reducing the barriers to climate resilience that exist in rural and remote communities, and identifying the enablers that enable communities to prepare for and withstand adverse climate impacts. The project's immediate goal is to identify three to five pilot communities that broadly reflect the challenges that are facing rural and remote communities in B.C. and Canada and utilize their first-hand experience and knowledge to craft solutions that benefit other rural and remote communities across the province.

It’s no surprise that rural and remote communities have been disproportionately impacted by climate change, such as the floods and fires experienced in 2021. These communities are more vulnerable due to their size and location and often lack the resources required to deal with climate impacts. The project seeks to co-develop means of working with these communities to address their needs and promote policy changes that will improve climate resilience.

Dr. Nancy Olewiler. Photo by Shimon Karmel

“As we know, 2021 was a horrible year with all the floods, fires and towns disappearing. Because of their size and location, these communities are not only more vulnerable, but they don't have the extensive resources that a city like Vancouver would have to deal with their climate impacts,” Olewiler says.

The research will focus primarily on housing, as well as technical systems like energy, electricity and gas, which are the foundations of modern society. The project partners with BC Housing, Technical Safety BC, and the First Nations Housing Infrastructure Council, and the team consists of engineers, economists, policy experts, health experts and geographers, who are all committed to working with community leaders.

“The emphasis is very much on this notion of co-development, including local and Indigenous knowledge. We don't have all the answers, goodness knows that if we did, we would be farther along on this journey,” Olewiler says.

The project exemplifies SFU's strategic priority of engaging in global challenges, as it emphasizes community engagement in the truest form and amplifies what communities feel are the ways to improve their resilience and identify what is standing in their way.

“We’re doing this in what we hope is a very respectful and considerate way. We're here to listen and learn from the deep knowledge in communities and to amplify their concerns to try to bring change that reduces the impacts that they're feeling,” she explains.

When asked about whether the research can be used for bigger communities and building projects, Olewiler notes that bigger cities have had more research done for them and have more political power. However, Canada is a country with many rural and remote communities, and the climate impacts are heavily affecting those regions.

Olewiler emphasizes the importance of working with these communities and utilizing their experience, knowledge and wisdom. “Our work is aimed at amplifying what they know, how climate is affecting all aspects of their lives, and finding ways to improve their resilience and identify what is standing in their way.”

Read more about this research project on SFU News.