Systematic review approaches for climate change adaptation research

2015 February 25

Berrang-Ford, L., Pearce, T., and Ford, J.D. (2015). Find Open Access PDF here. Regional Environmental Change.

Recent controversy has led to calls for increased standardization and transparency in the methods used to synthesize climate change research. Though these debates have focused largely on the biophysical dimensions of climate change, human dimensions research is equally in need of improved methodological approaches for research synthesis. Systematic review approaches, and more recently realist review methods, have been used within the health sciences for decades to guide research synthesis. Despite this, penetration of these approaches into the social and environmental sciences has been limited. Here, we present an analysis of approaches for systematic review and research synthesis and examine their applicability in an adaptation context. Customized review frameworks informed by systematic approaches to research synthesis provide a conceptually appropriate and practical opportunity for increasing methodological transparency and rigor in synthesizing and tracking adaptation research. This review highlights innovative applications of systematic approaches, with a focus on the unique challenges of integrating multiple data sources and formats in reviewing climate change adaptation policy and practice. We present guidelines, key considerations, and recommendations for systematic review in the social sciences in general and adaptation research in particular. We conclude by calling for increased conceptual and methodological development of systematic review approaches to address the methodological challenges of synthesizing and tracking adaptation to climate change.

Notes from the field: Lewis Archer in Arctic Bay

2015 February 20

Lewis Archer, MA student, is currently in Arctic Bay completing research on the changing levels of vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Inuit hunters in Nunavut. Here is a note and picture of him in the field.

It all seems to have happened on the eighth day of my research trip. Today (Feb 18th) I drove a skidoo for the first time. I ate seal brain. I ate seal liver. I ate seal flesh. All while still warm, minutes after it was killed. Probably the freshest meat I’ll ever eat.

Research is progressing well, I’ve interviewed seven hunters so far and some interesting themes around food security, socioeconomic status, and of course, environmental change are emerging. The biggest challenge so far has been technology, dictaphones, cameras and and phones all tend to freeze and break rather quickly in -44.

Lewis Archer in Arctic Bay. Photo by Acacia Johnson.

CCARG lab members were guest judges at Kahnawake Survival School’s grades 7-11 science fair!

2015 February 6

Four members from the team attended the annual Kahnawake Survival School Science Fair as guest judges on Wednesday, February 4th, 2015. The event was part of the Canada-Wide Science Fair competition. Some one hundred students from grades 7 to 11 participated, presenting a range of topics in the physical and social sciences. The event took place in the school gymnasium and was well attended and supported by parents and community members. The experience was a great opportunity for team members to interact with a local first nation community, and encourage youth to pursue the sciences and further their education. Here are some reflections from the CCARG lab members who attended:

“It was great to get outside of the University research bubble and see what young and aspiring scientists in the wider science community are interested in and what is happening at the middle and high school levels. The team found it really inspiring to talk to younger students about their science projects and ask them why they like science and what they aspire to. We were also amazed at the variety and level sophistication of some the projects. When we shared our selection of the final results with the teachers and vice-principal, the vice principal talked about the importance of encouraging native youth to pursue science and remind them that traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge can work together to bring a more holistic understanding of the world – a well put and important reminder for those of us in the University scientific community. We are honoured to have been able to be a part of this event and wish all the winning students the best of luck at the upcoming Québec-wide competition.”

Lewis, Jolène, Michelle and Sarah at the science fair

“The fair provided a fantastic opportunity for both the students of Kahnawake Survival School and members of our research group,” said Lewis. “The student’s science projects were diverse, often creative and well-thought out, with projects ranging from measuring emotional response to photography to a levitating, spinning magnet show. It was encouraging to see such passionate engagement with the sciences.”

Coverage and framing of climate change adaptation in the media: A review of influential North American newspapers during 1993–2013

2015 January 21

Ford, J.D., King, D. (2015). Find PDF here. Environmental Science & Policy.

The portrayal of climate change in the news has been a major focus of research over the last decade, reflecting the importance of the media in affecting public opinion and policy. This work has primarily focused on the science of climate change, impacts, and mitigation, yet our understanding on how adaptation is being profiled in the media is limited. In response to this gap, this paper quantitatively examines the coverage and framing of climate change adaptation in four influential North American newspapers between 1993 and 2013. Over the observation period, the total number of articles focusing on adaptation published each year increases, with peaks in reporting in 2007, 2012, and 2013. While adaptation has permeated news coverage, it still remains overshadowed by stories on impacts and mitigation, with increased reporting consistent with increased media attention to climate change over the last two decades. Of the newspaper articles with adaptation content (n = 271), the majority (53%) focus primarily on stating the need to adapt, as opposed to documenting actual preparations being undertaken for adaptation or profiling actual adaptations that have taken place. The types of adaptation being reported on are predominantly ‘hard’ in nature, profiling techno-engineering based responses to reduce potential climate change impacts, in contrast to ‘soft’ responses that seek to enhance resilience. This representation is particularly evident in reporting in 2012 and 2013. Adaptations being described in the selected newspaper articles are primarily anticipatory in nature up until 2011, after which adaptations are primarily discussed in terms of responding to extreme weather events, specifically in the context of a surge in reporting documented in response to Hurricane Sandy (2012) and flooding in Canada in 2013.

How are we adapting to climate change? A global assessment

2015 January 16

Lesnikowski, A.C., Ford, J.D., Berrang-Ford, L., Barrera, M., and Jody Heymann. (2015). Find PDF here. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change.


This paper applies a systematic approach to measuring adaptation actions being undertaken by 117 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the goal of establishing a baseline of global trends in adaptation. Data are systematically collected from National Communications prepared by Parties to the Convention and submitted periodically to the Secretariat. 4,104 discrete adaptation initiatives are identified and analyzed. Our findings indicate that while progress is being made on conducting impact and vulnerability assessments and adaptation research in nearly every country in the sample, translation of this knowledge into tangible adaptation initiatives is still limited. The largest number of reported adaptations falls under the category of infrastructure, technology, and innovation. Some types of vulnerability were more frequently reported across initiatives, including floods, drought, food and water safety and security, rainfall, infectious disease, and terrestrial ecosystem health. Notably, reporting on the inclusion of vulnerable sub-populations is low across all actions. Diffusion of adaptation across sectors remains underdeveloped, with the environment, water, and agricultural sectors emerging as the most active adaptors. Our analysis indicates that national communications provide a valuable source of information for global-scale adaptation tracking, but important gaps exist in the consistency of reporting that should be addressed, as these documents could greatly enhance efforts to monitor and evaluate adaptation progress.

Public Health Adaptation to Climate Change in Canadian Jurisdictions

2015 January 16

Austin, S.E., Ford, J.D., Berrang-Ford, L., Araos, M., Parker, S., and Manon D. Fleury. (2015).Find PDF here. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.


Climate change poses numerous risks to the health of Canadians. Extreme weather events, poor air quality, and food insecurity in northern regions are likely to increase along with the increasing incidence and range of infectious diseases. In this study we identify and characterize Canadian federal, provincial, territorial and municipal adaptation to these health risks based on publically available information. Federal health adaptation initiatives emphasize capacity building and gathering information to address general health, infectious disease and heat-related risks. Provincial and territorial adaptation is varied. Quebec is a leader in climate change adaptation, having a notably higher number of adaptation initiatives reported, addressing almost all risks posed by climate change in the province, and having implemented various adaptation types. Meanwhile, all other Canadian provinces and territories are in the early stages of health adaptation. Based on publically available information, reported adaptation also varies greatly by municipality. The six sampled Canadian regional health authorities (or equivalent) are not reporting any adaptation initiatives. We also find little relationship between the number of initiatives reported in the six sampled municipalities and their provinces, suggesting that municipalities are adapting (or not adapting) autonomously.

The 4Cs of adaptation tracking: consistency, comparability, comprehensiveness, coherency

2015 January 16

James D. Ford, and Lea Berrang-Ford. (2015). Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. Read the open access article here.


Adaptation tracking seeks to characterize, monitor, and compare general trends in climate change adaptation over time and across nations. Recognized as essential for evaluating adaptation progress, there have been few attempts to develop systematic approaches for tracking adaptation. This is reflected in polarized opinions, contradictory findings, and lack of understanding on the state of adaptation globally. In this paper, we outline key methodological considerations necessary for adaptation tracking research to produce systematic, rigorous, comparable, and usable insights that can capture the current state of adaptation globally, provide the basis for characterizing and evaluating adaptations taking place, facilitate examination of what conditions explain differences in adaptation action across jurisdictions, and can underpin the monitoring of change in adaptation over time. Specifically, we argue that approaches to adaptation tracking need to (i) utilize a consistent and operational conceptualization of adaptation, (ii) focus on comparable units of analysis, (iii) use and develop comprehensive datasets on adaptation action, and (iv) be coherent with our understanding of what constitutes real adaptation. Collectively, these form the 4Cs of adaptation tracking (consistency, comparability, comprehensiveness, and coherency).

Artic Change 2014: IK-ADAPT in Ottawa

2015 January 16

As originally published on the IK-ADAPT website.

James Ford and Phylicia Kagyut at the Poster Presentation session.

James Ford and Phylicia Kagyut at the Poster Presentation session.

Arctic Change 2014 was a busy and enriching conference for IK-ADAPT team members. IK-ADAPT researchers chaired two sessions, gave nine session presentations and four poster presentations. The film “Lament for the Land”, a collaboration between Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox and the five communities Nunatsiavut, was screened at the conference and followed by a Q & A session. IK-ADAPT also held a one day meeting parallel to the conference to discuss project updates as well as the commonalities and differences between the different community-based initiatives. This meeting was attended by all the project leads, community partners, IK-ADAPT researchers and students. The meeting yielded great discussions about final project outputs and reflections as IK-ADAPT approaches the end of its final year.

Click to enlarge: IK-ADAPT posters detailing the different projects.

Click to enlarge: IK-ADAPT posters detailing the different projects.

Additionally, Inez Shiwak presented five times and participated in the Q & A for “Lament for the Land”. She also won the Arctic Change Northern Travel Award to support her participation in the conference, and was nominated for the Inuit Recognition Award at Arctic Change 2014. Congratulations Inez!

In numbers:

  • 2 chaired sessions
  • 9 session presentations
  • 4 poster presentations
  • 1 film screening
  • 1 full day IK-ADAPT meeting

CCARG highlights from COP20

2014 December 17

James, Shuaib, and Michelle at the side event “Indigenous peoples, health, and community-based monitoring systems”

Five members of the Climate Change Adaptation Research Group attended the UNFCCC COP20 conference in Lima, Peru. Additionally, many IHACC project researchers, including PI’s Dr. Shuaib Lwasa and Dr.Alejandro Llanos, participated in the conference. Here are some of the group’s highlights from COP20.

Panelists and speakers at the side event co-organized with Tebtebba

IHACC researchers participated in an official COP20 side event, co-organized by the Tebtebba, the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, and McGill University, on community-based adaptation, monitoring and information systems, as well as health impacts in indigenous peoples’ communities. The event was very well attended, over the room capacity with at least 80 attendees.

CCARG lab members also went to and participated in many side events, including an interactive workshop on public participation at the UNFCCC. Michelle attended the daily briefing for Canadian stakeholders from the chief and deputy chief negotiators for Canada, Dan McDougall and Franca Jacovella. Every day, after updates from the Canadian negotiators, delegates had an opportunity to ask questions.

Mya Sherman and Malcolm Araos at the Trac3 and IHACC booth at COP20

Malcolm Araos spent a lot of time at the Trac3 and IHACC booth at the exhibit portion of COP20, where he shared information about the project to a constant stream of delegates. Every day a different IHACC team member was available to answer questions about the project. There were also IHACC booths at the “Voces por el Clima” fair and the “Climate and Health Summit” side events, where IHACC booklets were distributed. Overall, we were able to distribute research findings to large number of policymakers from Canada and abroad, indigenous leaders from Latin America, researchers and government officials.

One of the TRAC3 posters at the COP20 booth.

Mya Sherman was the recipient of the New Investigator award as well as the People’s Choice Award for Best Presentation at the Climate and Health Summit. New Investigators have the opportunity to have their climate and health research work viewed and critiqued by some of the biggest names in the field during the summit. Mya’s presentation slides, titled “Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of community food systems in the Peruvian Amazon: A case study from Panaillo”, can be found by clicking here.

IHACC was able to have a full day meeting to discuss research results and future directions for the work that is happening in Peru. Margot, who spent a lot of time at COP20 meeting researchers and students from UPCH, was able to further collaborate with the Peruvian team and prepare for her upcoming Master’s work.

Congratulations to Joanna on the completion of the MA thesis

2014 December 15

A big congratulations to Joanna Petrasek MacDonald, whose MA thesis “From the minds of youth: exploring Inuit youth resilience within a changing climate and applications for climate change adaptation in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada” has been accepted. Joanna would like to thank the community members, academic peers and funding agencies for their collaboration and support that made this thesis possible. Joanna is currently the project coordinator for IK-ADAPT, and you can find her bio here:

Abstract: The Canadian North is experiencing rapid social, cultural, economic, political, and environmental change that have direct impacts on the lives of Inuit living in this region, as well as serious implications for the future of the Inuit youth. Essential to facing this challenging context is a resilient youth population with the adaptive capacities and coping skills to respond to multiple stressors and pressures. This thesis considers the question of how to foster youth resilience and support youth protective factors that enhance youth well-being and can help young people deal with change, specifically climate change. To answer this question, a systematic literature review, a community-based, youth-led, cross-cultural participatory video project, and a regional community-based study were undertaken to explore youth-identified protective factors and examine challenges to these factors from youth perspectives and experiences. Specifically, this thesis characterizes the protective factors that influence Circumpolar Indigenous youth mental health resilience to climate change; explores participatory video as a process that can foster protective factors thereby demonstrating potential to be used in adaptation as a way to enhance youth resilience; documents youth-identified protective factors that support mental health and well-being amidst change (i.e. social, cultural, economic, or environmental); and examines how climatic changes and related environmental impacts challenge these factors throughout the region of Nunatsiavut from a youth perspective. The findings from this work highlight the importance of youth voices, perspectives, and involvement within research and practitioner communities, and contributes to the growing body of research on Circumpolar Indigenous youth resilience that can inform climate change adaptation efforts.

CCARG on Finding True North: Top 8 Moments of Arctic Change 2014

2014 December 15

Thank you to Sara Statham for her mention of the CCARG on the popular Arctic blog “Finding True North”. You can read the full blog post by clicking here. Below is the mention of our social media activity during the 2014 Artic Change conference.

4. Following #ArcticChange2014 on Twitter

With so many concurrent sessions, it was awesome to read through the #ArcticChange2014 tweets –  essentially 140 character summaries of everything happening at once. Little gems, take-away messages, or notable quotes. Members of the Climate Change Adaptation Research Group based out of McGill University stood out as top contributors, and this technologically savvy group took over the Twittersphere in a meaningful way.

What a gang! The Climate Change Adaptation Research Group from McGill University at #ArcticNet #ArcticChange2014

Anna Bunce’s research featured on both Nunatsiaq Online and CBC’s Northbeat

2014 December 12

MA student and CCARG researcher Anna Bunce’s work, on the impact of climate change on Inuit women in Iqaluit, Nunavut, has been profiled on both CBC’s Northbeat and Nunatsiaq online. Read Anna’s bio, and follow her on Twitter here.

CBC’s Northbeat

The interview with Anna starts at 34:30. Video originally posted on CBC’s website here.

Article as originally published here on Nunatsiaq Online.

The climate is changing, and so are Arctic berries
Researcher explores how Iqaluit women are adapting to “bad” berry seasons

McGill University researcher Anna Bunce tells a Dec. 10 Arctic Change 2014 session about the barriers Iqaluit women face harvesting berries around their community. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Women pick berries on the hills overlooking Kuujjuaq this part fall. (PHOTO BY ISABELLE DUBOIS)

EWS: Nunavut December 10, 2014 – 2:30 pm

OTTAWA — How are Inuit communities around the world adapting to a warming climate?

That was the focus of a Dec. 10 morning session at this week’s Arctic Change 2014 conference in Ottawa.

And, not surprisingly, many of the researchers’ presentations featured collaborations with Inuit hunters. Their PowerPoint presentations were filled with photos of parka-clad hunters — the majority of them men — out on the land and sea ice.

But when McGill University graduate student Anna Bunce started to look at climate change and adaptation in Iqaluit three years ago, she wanted to include the perspectives of Inuit women, too.

Bunce looked to the land and community harvest no less.

“When I asked participants what kinds of changes they’d seen on the land, most mentioned caribou,” Bunce said during her presentation.

“But the second most common thing they said was berries. Women talked a lot about how berries were changing, that they were seeing more ‘bad’ years for berries.”

During the last three years of research Bunce has conducted in Nunavut’s capital, Inuit women have described a decline in the quality and quantity of the berries that grow on the hills outside their community — blueberries, crowberries, cloudberries and others.

Berry picking is part of an annual early-autumn tradition, when Inuit — typically women — are seen squatting on the tundra filling pails with the highly nutritious tundra fruits. Berries are used to make jams, sweets, teas and also frozen to save for winter.

But the women Bunce interviewed reported that more and more often, berries are seedy and less juicy, and generally less accessible.

She can’t say for certain what the exact conditions are for a good or bad berry season. Inuit have suggested that warm and wet conditions often translate to a good berry harvest, but it depends on who you talk to, and when those conditions happen.

But while a changing climate might be a factor in poorer berry harvests, the rapid growth of Iqaluit as the territory’s capital city has meant the expansion of housing and other development.

And that’s pushed the berry-picking areas farther away from the community, Bunce said.

“Traditionally, berry picking was a very accessible activity,” she said.

“If you have a bucket and a free hour, you could get out there. Now areas that used to be good for berry picking aren’t any longer, and women have to travel farther to access them.”

That’s not just a cultural or food security issue, Bunce discovered; the women she interviewed said berry picking was also an important activity for mental health.

Because the majority of women Bunce interviewed work full-time, they also have less time to get out onto the land to harvest.

That’s spurred a small market for berries; patients from around the Baffin area travelling to Iqaluit’s Qikiqtani general hospital often bring bags of berries with them to sell, or give to family members.
To a lesser extent, Bunce said women are buying berries sold on community Facebook pages.

In one of the more extreme cases Bunce noted, an Iqaluit woman she interviewed charters a flight to Kimmirut each year to pick berries around the small Baffin community.

“The cost of chartering a flight really speaks to the value this has to women,” she said.

Schedule of CCARG activities at the 2014 Arctic Change conference in Ottawa

2014 December 8

You can find all the Arctic Change 2014 programs here.


T17. Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in Arctic Regions. Co-chairs: Tristan Pearce, James Ford, Barry Smit. Room 210

  • 10:30 Pearce, Tristan Vulnerability and Adaptation Research in the Arctic
  • 10:45 Tjensvoll Kitching, Knut The Dynamics of Climate Change Vulnerability in the Southern Baffin Region, Nunavut
  • 11:15 Bunce, Anna Inuit Women and Climate Change: Perspectives and Experiences Regarding Climate Change and Adaptation in Iqaluit, Nunavut
  • 11:30 Parker, Colleen Freezer Space and Food Security in Ulukhaktok, NWT

T04A. Education in Inuit Nunangat in a Time of Change. Co-chairs: Lars Kullerud, Mary Simon, Thierry Rodon. Room 201

  • 10:45 Lalonde, Genevieve Examining Perceptions of Learning Success among Inuit and Southern Educators

T26C. Health and Well-Being in Arctic Communities: Advancements in Practices, Processes and Outcomes. Co-chairs: Chris Furgal, Eric Loring. Room 206

  • 11:15 Jasiuk, Linnaea Inuit Women’s Perspectives on a Healthy Life
  • 11:30 Cunsolo Willox, Ashlee IlikKuset-Ilingannet/Culture-Connect: Promoting Cultural-Based Youth Mentorship Programs to Support Mental Health, Resilience, and Cultural Sustainability in Nunatsiavut, Labrador
  • 16:15 Finner, Kaitlyn Context Matters: Developing an Approach for Food Systems Research in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut

T09B. Arctic Wildlife Co-Management Challenges and Solutions – Bringing Together Inuit and Scientific Knowledge. Co-chairs: John Cheechoo, Lisa Loseto, Gregor Gilbert. Room 210

  • 16:30 Tjensvoll Kitching, Knut Tuktu and Climate Change: Inuit Harvesting on Southern Baffin Island


T10. Arctic Youth: the Future to a Sustainable Arctic Environment. Co-chairs: Graham May, Justina LeeStolz, Jenna Gall. Room 102

  • 11:00 Petrasek MacDonald, Joanna Youth-Identified Protective Factors for Mental Health and Well-Being in a Changing Climate: Perspectives from Inuit Youth in Nunatsiavut, Labrador

T24B. Addressing Food (In)security in the Arctic. Co-chairs: Leanna Ellsworth, Laura Bennett, Tiff -Annie Kenny. Room 206

  • 16:00 Statham, Sara The Nunavut Food Security Coalition’s Value Toward and Need for Food Security Research


#7 Lalonde, Genevieve The cultural negotiation of Inuit education
#37 Parker, Colleen Vulnerability of an Inuit Food System to Climate and Socio-Economic Change
#48 Ford, James Inuit Traditional Knowledge for Adapting to the Health Effects of Climate Change
#49 Jasiuk, Linnaea Inuit Women’s Conceptualizations of and Approaches to Health in a Changing Climate

CCARG was at Ouranos Symposium in Quebec City

2014 December 8

CCARG members Jolene Labbe and Stephanie Austin attended the Ouranos Symposium in Quebec City December 4th and 5th. Ouranos is a consortium on regional climatology and adaptation to climate change ( The symposium is geared towards sharing knowledge between government and researchers and is held in French. At the symposium Jolene presented a poster on her research on vulnerability of Bakiga health to climate change in Uganda and adaptive capacity (Poster title: Comment les changements climatiques affectent-ils la santé d’une communauté rurale en Ouganda?). Stephanie presented a poster on her research conducted with TRAC3 ( and the Public Health Agency of Canada on health adaptation across Canadian jurisdictions (Poster title: Adaptation des systèmes de santé publique aux changements climatiques à travers les juridictions canadiennes).

“It was important to share the work that is being done through the IHACC and Trac3 projects with the greater Quebecois research community, and connect with researchers in Quebec whose work focuses on climate change adaptation.” – Jolene Labbe

Mya Sherman wins New Investigator award and People’s Choice Award for Best Presentation

2014 December 8

A big congratulations to Mya Sherman, who won the New Investigator award as well as the People’s Choice Award for Best Presentation at the Climate and Health Summit in Peru during COP20. The 2014 Climate and Health Summit took place alongside the next UN climate summit, (COP20) on December 6th. CCARG member Mya Sherman was selected as a “New Investigator” by the summit organizing body. New Investigators have the opportunity to have their climate and health research work viewed and critiqued by some of the biggest names in the field during the summit.

During the summit, Mya won the People’s Choice Award for Best Presentation for her presentation titled “Vulnerability and adaptive capacity of community food systems in the Peruvian Amazon: A case study from Panaillo”.

Mya Sherman presenting as a New Investigator at the Climate and Health Summit in Lima, Peru

Climate and Health Summit Poster and Presentation Winners with the Awards Organizer