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Institutional Adaptations to Climate Change Project

Canada-Chile Case Study on Adaptation

In 2004, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI) program provided funding for a joint project between Chilean and Canadian research institutions to investigate the similarities in dryland areas and also to identify common adaptation options at the institutional and community levels. The project was designed to run from January of 2004 until December of 2008.

The critical issue that the IACC project addresses is the capacity of institutions in dryland regions to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Snow-melt dominated watersheds are highly sensitive and vulnerable to climate change. Glaciers are expected to continue to retreat, thus reducing water quality and quantity for population living in these areas. Glaciers are expected to continue to retreat, thus reducing water quality and quantity for population living in these areas. The two basins selected for this study, the Elqui River Basin (ERB) in north-central Chile and the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) in western Canada, are good examples of these watersheds.

Both watersheds have a dry climate adjacent to a major mountain system and landscapes at risk of desertification, as well as an agricultural economy dependent on water derived from mountain snow and glaciers. As a result of drier conditions and increased climatic uncertainty, these areas are likely to be similarly affected by climate change.

The goal of the project is to develop a systematic and comprehensive understanding of the capacities of regional institutions to formulate and implement strategies of adaptation to climate change risks and the forecasted impacts of climate change on the supply and management of water resources in dryland environments. The specific objectives of the project are:

    1. to identify the current social and physical vulnerabilities related to water resource scarcity in the two dryland regions;
    2. to examine the effects of climate change risks on the identified vulnerabilities; and
    3. to assess the technical and social adaptive capacities of the regional institutions to address the vulnerabilities to current water scarcity and climate change risks.

These objectives have been attained through the integration of several research activities: (a) an assessment of the current vulnerabilities of a group of communities in the two basins; (b) an analysis of the role of institutions in the resolution of a group of recent conflicts related to water scarcity; (c) a historical study of institutional adaptation in periods characterized by water scarcities; (d) an analysis of environmental vulnerabilities identified by stakeholders; (e) an assessment of the capacities of governance institutions to reduce the vulnerabilities of rural communities; and (f) an assessment of the future climate scenarios for the two basins - based on different climatic models - and their potential impacts.

The implementation of the project is characterized by an active and continuing integration of team members and research activities. Rather than developing a set of parallel studies, the project has emphasized a permanent integration of research activities that promote continuous collaboration among the members of the research team. A fundamental element in the process of integration has been the development of a common conceptual and methodological framework that defines the central activities of the project and their linkages.

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