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Climate refugees, climate gentrification, resilient communities: are we all speaking the same climate change language?

By Paula Bernardino, Climate Reality Leader trained in 2017

· Advocacy Stories

UN’s SDG 13 Climate Action purpose is to "take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts."

We find the information on the SDGs website that "the year 2017 was one of the three warmest on record and was 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period. ... The world continues to experience rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions (the North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever recorded) and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases."
"As of 9 April 2018, 175 Parties had ratified the Paris Agreement and 168 Parties (167 countries plus the European Commission) had communicated their first nationally determined contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. In addition, as of 9 April 2018, 10 developing countries had successfully completed and submitted the first iteration of their national adaptation plans for responding to climate change."
SDG 13 will be reviewed in-depth at the High-Level Political Forum in 2019.
With this sense of urgency, we’ve started hearing terms like climate refugees and climate gentrification. A recent article in the Guardian gave the example of what’s happening in Arizona where the city of Phoenix has been experiencing rising temperatures. It was so hot that road signs and mailboxes melted, while planes couldn’t take off or land. The article mentions “It will get worse – Phoenix, the fastest-warming large city in the US, could spend close to half of its year in over 100°F (37°C) heat within 30 years."
One day in July this year, Phoenix experienced 116°F (47°C) while Flagstaff, a two-hour drive, was at 80°F (27°C). A pattern of climate-driven gentrification is taking hold across the US, as those who are able to retreat from floods, storms, heat waves and wildfires shift to safer areas, bringing soaring property and rental values with them. And this is what the city of Flagstaff is experiencing.

"As it gets hotter, we are getting a lot of climate refugees," said Coral Evans, Flagstaff’s mayor, in the Guardian article. "We don’t mind people moving to Flagstaff at all. But about 25% of our housing is now second homes. The cost of living is our number one issue. We don’t talk much about what climate change means for social justice. But where are lowincome people going to live? How can they afford to stay in this city?"

The recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave a dramatic portrait of the situation saying the planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, indicating the planet will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.

But is the language used in these reports really helping increase awareness – and action – to climate change? A week after the IPCC report came out, a journalist in the Canadian National Post questioned "the UN climate-change panel that cried wolf too often," saying "You can't set multiple deadlines for Doomsday. It’s a kind of one-off by nature. Do it too often and people cease to take notice or even care?"

Are these reports and debates in the media using too high-level language and information that local communities cannot relate to? How do we get communities to notice climate change and get interested and involved in the conversation?
Community organizations like CREW Toronto are tackling community preparedness. CREW stands for Community Resilience to Extreme Weather and supports Toronto residents and communities as they organize to help themselves and each other during extreme weather events.
"Our goal is to create a city-wide network of resilient communities, says CREW’s Madelyn Webb. To get there, we are exploring various methods in creating community resilience at the grassroots level. We’re learning about how we can connect to each other in simple and meaningful ways, as these relationships prove to be crucial in the first few days of an emergency."
How do we build resilient communities?

"As part of our outreach strategy, CREW is mapping resilience at the neighbourhood level. We are piloting this work in Toronto’s new Ward 4 where we have identified a suite of indicators that we’ve used to build a resilience index for seven neighbourhoods in the city. The index and scores will be used to create dialogue and inform community members about the importance of planning for extreme weather events," says CREW’s Sheila Murray.

Who else needs to be involved in building community resilience? In the next issue, I explore the role insurance could be playing in helping tackle climate change and build resilient communities.

This article was originally included in iuventum's November 2018 newsletter.