Developing a climate change adaptation plan: A guide in support of municipal organizations
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By 2030, all Quebec municipalities are expected to have an adaptation plan. An interview with  Isabelle Charron, Head of the Knowledge Transfer and Training Team at Ouranos, on the guide to support municipal organizations in this process.  

Consult the guide in support of municipal organizations, Élaborer un plan d'adaptation aux changements climatiques.

Could you remind us of the context in which this guide was developed?

This guide is actually an update of a guide that Ouranos produced in 2010. At the time, it was the first guide to help Quebec municipalities develop an adaptation plan. A lot has happened since then. Scientific knowledge and best practices have advanced, both in climate science and in adaptation. It was time to bring it up to date. 

As part of its 2023-2028 Implementation Plan under the 2030 Plan for a Green Economy, the Government of Québec announced support for municipalities to help them develop climate plans. This concerns both emissions mitigation and climate change adaptation, through the Accélérer la transition climatique locale (accelerating the local climate transition) program.

To assist municipalities in this process, the Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, de la Faune et des Parcs partnered with Ouranos to produce this new version of the guide, Élaborer un plan d’adaptation aux changements climatiques (developing a climate change adaptation plan). The guide aims to facilitate the development of the adaptation component of these climate plans.


We often hear that municipalities are on the front lines of the fight against climate change. What about adaptation? 

Yes, it’s true, municipalities are the key. We can talk about climate change on a global or province-wide scale, but the changes observed vary even at a regional and local level and the impacts are felt differently at the community level. 

Adaptation to climate change is done at a scale that is often very local. Adaptation measures can’t be designed just by looking at Quebec-wide or global risks. The analysis and decision-making have to be based on the local context. 

Municipalities know their area and have tools at their disposal. They have enough independence to take adaptation measures. They control mechanisms like development plans and municipal codes and by-laws. 

Without realizing it, some municipalities are already adapting to climate change. This guide will help them do a better job of analyzing their risks and planning their adaptation by following a proven approach. 

Can small municipalities easily make use of the proposed method? 

Producing an adaptation plan is certainly a bit of a challenge for municipalities that don’t necessarily have the expertise to do it. That’s why we encourage them to work together and establish a plan on a slightly larger scale while taking  the specificities of each municipality into account. To facilitate these collaborations, the funding offered under the Accélérer la transition climatique locale program enables them to group together at the RCM level.


What are the main steps in a climate change adaptation plan as shown in this guide?

In this guide, we propose a five-step adaptation process. The first step is choosing the project team. We recommend appointing what we call an adaptation “champion,” i.e. a person who will lead the process from start to finish and coordinate a team of multidisciplinary experts, whether internal or external to the organization. Municipalities don’t necessarily have a climatologist on staff, but at some point in the process, this expertise will be needed. The needs in terms of expertise should be identified at an early stage.

The second step is what we call the establishment of the objectives, scope and framework of the approach. Do you want to implement adaptation measures? Increase the municipality’s resilience? At the level of the municipality, the RCM or the watershed? 

At this stage, the scale of the analysis is selected, as well as the main systems that will be improved. For example, the focus could be on built infrastructure, road infrastructure, or the population. The climate hazards that the municipality is currently facing also need to be identified, such as intense heat in summer, or extreme precipitation, while anticipating future changes as well. Data collection begins at this stage.

The third step is a risk assessment. This is a key step, which consists of three main tasks: identification, analysis and evaluation. The aim here is to quantify how climate hazards will change in the future. Will they be more frequent? More intense? 

The consequences of these hazards on the systems previously identified must also be measured. For example, will forest fires be more frequent in certain areas of the municipality in the future? What will be the impact on power lines? This is how a risk assessment is carried out, making it possible to then prioritize the adaptation measures to be undertaken. 

That brings us to the fourth step: looking at the risks and classifying from the greatest priority to the least.  A schedule of adaptation measures to be implemented is then established, including the definition of the indicators to be monitored. 

Lastly, the fifth and final step is the production of the adaptation plan and its follow-up. It’s a road map that will both inform the population and give decision-makers what they need to make informed decisions.  Adjusting the measures and the plan is also an important part of this stage. Adaptation is not a goal; it’s an iterative process, which must be adjusted over time.

Not all municipalities are affected in the same way by climate change. How did you ensure that this method could be adapted to local contexts?

The proposed method is solid and has the advantage of being flexible. It’s globally standardized, consistent with best practices in the field, and based on the ISO 14090, 14091 and 31000 standards. 

The guide was designed so that everyone involved in Quebec municipal organizations can make use of it. 

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