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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Local responses to climate change : an exploration of the relationship between capacity and action Burch, Sarah L.


Although the development and implementation of a global greenhouse gas reduction regime has dominated policy debates since before the advent of the Kyoto Protocol (and remains a critical element of effective mitigation), communities have both direct control of critical sources of emissions (Bulkeley and Betsill, 2005, Betsill, 2001) and are the scale at which the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change will play out (Wilbanks et al., 2007, Wilbanks et al., 2003). As this dissertation will show, communities face a unique set of challenges as they navigate through the uncertain future presented by climate change. Even so, communities bring to the task of climate change adaptation and mitigation a unique set of tools and proficiencies that are often absent at the national and international scales. It is the ultimate aim of the research presented here to enhance this toolkit so that communities might effectively employ the various forms of capacity they possess to rise to the challenge presented by climate change. Using three municipalities in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada, this dissertation explores: the various forms of capacity that are utilized in response to climate change, the roots of capacity in the underlying development path, the factors that might inhibit the effective translation of capacity into action at the local level, and strategies that might be used to transform barriers into enablers of action. The evidence presented in this dissertation indicates that barriers are deeply interwoven phenomena, which may reinforce one another and create substantial inertia behind unsustainable patterns of municipal operations. Addressing a lack of technical, financial, or human resources appears to be less a matter of creating more capacity than of facilitating the effective use of existing resources. This facilitation depends most fundamentally on re-working the path dependent institutional structures, organizational culture and policy-making procedures that have characterized the unsuccessful patterns of climate change policy development in the past. It is hoped that this work will help to elucidate the means by which the challenge of carbon neutrality and resiliency can be met by communities, and to stimulate the transformation of barriers into enablers of action.

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