Based on a survey of their leadership, the Federation of Community Social Services of BC recognized that the impacts of climate change are a threat to their member organizations. Over 70% of Federation member organizations attending their annual conference in June reported seeing the impacts of climate change as a moderate to significant threat.
Member organizations’ responses to these impacts, thus far, have tended to focus on discrete issues such as wildfires and extreme heat. Many organizations report having formal policies and procedures in place for such issues, however, more comprehensive preparation is reported as minimal. This approach leaves the sector susceptible to a range of more frequent and intersecting impacts.
Now and in the future, the community social services sector will increasingly find itself at the front line of responding to the impacts of climate change. In the forms of increasing numbers and intensity of extreme weather events, loss of bio-diversity and higher levels of zoonotic transmission, climate change will become a major driver of social disruption. Climate change driven effects can also be expected to interact with and exacerbate existing drivers of social injustice such as income disparity, housing disruption and homelessness, histories of colonization and racism. Symptoms of social disruption such as mental health problems, addiction and homelessness will become more widespread.
The sector’s willingness to learn, interest in innovation and new ideas and committed leadership are identified as strengths in adapting to this uncertain future and the majority of the sector’s leadership see their organizations as having some degree of capacity to invest in adaptive measures. To date, with some exceptions these strengths have not translated into planning for a climate change disrupted future. The data suggests that engagement in taking concrete steps toward adaptation may be tied to leadership’s perception of the limited resources available. This was confirmed by discussion in the focus groups, as well as responses in the narrative section to the survey.
Very few organizations are seen by their leadership as having the human and financial resources needed to make substantive changes in policies and procedures. In addition, the inclusion of equity-denied groups is minimal, an especially significant issue because of the extent to which such groups are at a disadvantage in terms of being subject to the impacts of climate change.
In conclusion, although there is both a recognition of the threats to organizations and a willingness to respond on the part of the sector’s leadership, very little concrete preparation is taking place. The exception is in relation to specific extreme weather events. Since a great deal will be asked of the sector as the impacts of climate change accelerate, community social service organizations lack of readiness is an issue that must be addressed.
The following are our recommendations to advance community social service organizations’ climate change readiness translated into Phase II now underway supported by the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC):
- Further develop and refine the process of assessing Federation members’ readiness to respond to the impacts of climate change by –
- Collaborating with Federation leadership, MHCCA and SPARC in refining the Climate Change Readiness Survey and Focus Group Interview Guide.
- Extending the assessment process by administering the survey to member organization’s Board of Directors, Staff and Volunteers (online).
- Expanding the assessment process by conducting online focus group interviews with member organization Executive Directors, including questions about Indigenous consultation and collaboration and services to equity-denied groups. The focus group interviews comprise three diverse groups of a minimum of six, to include both urban and rural, as well as small and large organizations.
- Based on analysis of Climate Change Readiness Survey and Focus Group data, develop a roadmap for Federation members’ use in preparing to respond to the impacts of climate
change. A roadmap is a strategic outline that defines goals or desired outcomes and includes the major steps or milestones needed to reach them. It also serves as a communication tool within and between organizations and their supporters.
- Incorporate findings from consultations with Indigenous and equity-denied groups in Federation member organizations’ in the roadmap.
- Develop a Federation community of practice focused on climate change impacts on organizations that will serve as a resource to Federation members in implementing, further evolving and evaluating the Climate Change Roadmap.
- Prepare documentation of the project for publication in venues such as the Journal of Mental Health and Climate Change and GTEC Reader, as well as the social media and blog posts of all partnering organizations. These findings may also be presented in contexts such as municipal council meetings.