Community adaptation

Community_smOn this page, you will learn about adaptation in:

  • Urban centres
    • Extreme weather events
    • Drought
    • Heat stress
    • Green space
  • Rural communities
    • Flooding
    • Agricultural-based communities
    • Northern and remote communities
    • Indigenous communities

Click a link in the list above to jump to that topic on this page.

Vulnerability of prairie communities to climate change depends upon their adaptive capacity and how directly exposed they are to the impacts.

Vulnerability to climate change will increase if stresses are repetitious and continuous (as anticipated). It is further amplified if the stresses occur in combination and if they occur too frequently to allow recuperation. (1)

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Urban centres

Cities usually have greater adaptive capacity than rural communities because of their communication and transportation infrastructures. Cities also have better economic reserves and emergency response capacities, and tend to have greater political influence.

The primary climate impacts of concern for cities on the Prairies are:

  • extreme weather events
  • drought
  • heat stress
  • ecological transformation of urban green space

Extreme weather events

Weather events that bring high amounts of precipitation in a short time may become more frequent (2). These events may overburden municipal and individual drain and sewage systems. Therefore, it may be necessary to review the capacity of these systems to perform during rain-induced floods.

If this precipitation comes in the winter, it may tax snow removal capacities and budgets. It may also affect the capacity of some structures to support the load of snow.


Projected increases in the magnitude and frequency of drought will certainly have an impact on water supply and place an emphasis on water efficiency initiatives.

Heat stress

The highest temperatures recorded in Canada have occurred on the prairies. Up until recently, prairie heat spells have usually been of short duration, are rarely associated with high humidity, and are cooled at night.

Cities are hotter than surrounding areas due to the ‘urban heat island’ (UHI) effect (3).

Heat waves are expected to become more frequent and of longer duration. These will particularly affect vulnerable populations, including those that are very young, elderly, sick, or low income (see Health impacts). We will need to adopt policies and technologies to deal with heat stress, such as city shelters for those unable to afford residential air conditioning.

Green space

Urban green spaces are susceptible to long-term shifts in both average temperatures and precipitation. These changes could be detrimental to some existing tree species if they are poorly suited to emergent climate trends. For example, in 2007, the City of Edmonton estimated that they have lost approximately 23,000 trees since 2002 as a result of drought (4). Warmer temperatures also allow pests to persist, such as in the case of the Emerald Ash Borer.

Green spaces are also incredibly important in urban centres for improving mental health, providing locations for physical activity, and sequestering carbon.

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Rural communities

SmallTown28% of Manitobans live in rural communities.

In general, rural communities are more sensitive to climate change impacts than cities, largely due to their economic dependence on natural-resource sectors and lack of opportunities for economic diversification. Also, few rural communities have access to the same level of disaster management resources (e.g. emergency response and health care programs) as larger cities. In a small town, even a modest hazardous event can be locally disastrous, simply because it is likely to affect a greater proportion of the population. (5)


Winnipeg is well-protected within the Red River Floodway. However, other towns that are located in flood-prone areas currently lack adequate risk management approaches. Existing water management infrastructure (storage and drainage systems) may not be suited to projected future changes in precipitation, snowmelt, and drainage schemes. (6)

Agricultural-based communities

More than 25% of the jobs in rural communities in Canada are in resource-based industries, and a far greater proportion of employment is indirectly dependent upon these sectors. In the Prairies, 78% of resource-related jobs are in agriculture. (7) The risks and opportunities for agricultural communities are strongly tied to climate change impacts on agriculture, as described in the Agriculture impacts and Agriculture solutions sections of this website.

Northern and remote communities

Many northern, mining, and forest-based communities are located in remote regions with limited transportation access. Therefore, their emergency response capacity may be severely constrained especially if extreme weather or forest fires compromise the primary transportation routes.

Forest-based communities make up a small proportion of rural communities; the forest sector accounts for less than 2% of employment in Manitoba. Forest-based communities will be greatly affected by changes in commercial forestry. Overall, communities that are forest dependent appear to be associated with lower educational attainment and higher rates of family poverty and unemployment (8). This information indicates that they would have a low adaptive capacity to climate change.

Some prairie communities have strong economic reliance on tourism and nature-based recreation activities. Nature-based tourism, and the communities that depend on this industry, face several challenges as climate change impacts ecosystems. The parks most severely affected, with local economic impacts, are the island forests and small recreation areas of the Southern Prairies, where the water and trees that draw visitors are particularly sensitive to changing climate.

 Indigenous Communities

Approximately half the Indigenous population of the Prairies lives in cities; the remainder live in or near their traditional territories, which are directly exposed to the impacts of changing climate on ecosystems, water management and forestry (9).

Indigenous communities have the highest rates of poverty and unemployment throughout the Prairies, which dramatically reduces their adaptive capacity.

Many Indigenous communities are also at least partly dependent on subsistence activities for their livelihood, with local food supplies supplementing their diets to a far greater extent than for non-Indigenous people. Impacts of climate change have implications for flora and fauna, and declines or annual uncertainties in the availability of moose, caribou, deer, fish and wild rice will increase dependence on imported foods, with both economic and health implications for residents.

Unsuitable snow and ground conditions greatly hamper travel, by foot or by snowmobile, to trap lines, hunting grounds and fishing areas. Communities report decreased levels of these traditional activities due to concerns about personal safety.

Traditional knowledge and land management systems serve as sources of resiliency, which can continue to play an important role in restoring and strengthening adaptive capacity in the future.

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