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Climate change: Ontario pledges $13M to help indigenous communities

The province is investing $13 million in two initiatives to help indigenous communities address climate change.

Funds to help First Nations convert from diesel, address climate-related problems like flooding

Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer, centre, poses for a photo with Wesley Bova, left, president of the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation, MPPs Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle, and professor David Pearson, right, of Laurentian University's School of the Environment. Zimmer was in Thunder Bay to announce provincial funding for two initiatives to help First Nations deal with climate change. (Heather Kitching/CBC)
A matter of life and death, that's how Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day describes the First Nations perspective on climate change. 7:48

The province is investing $13 million in two initiatives to help indigenous communities address climate change. 

Eight million of that funding will help communities switch from diesel to locally-available renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

The other $5 million – from the province's Green Investment Fund – will pay for a partnership between the Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources and the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation to study the impact of climate change on communities and to help them create plans to deal with those changes.

Melting winter road

Some of the climate-related challenges northern First Nations are facing include flooding from late-winter rain storms and a shorter winter road season, said Laurentian University professor David Pearson, who is one of two people spearheading the project. 

"It makes a difference to the ease with which materials can be brought in for building schools or other sorts of buildings, and it makes a difference to the cost of fruits and vegetables and other groceries from the Northern Store," he said.

A climate adaptation plan might include ensuring a community has sufficient drainage to take away late-winter rain storm water and having community leaders educate people about the changing safety of the winter roads, Pearson said.

Health units also need to watch out for lyme disease as black-legged ticks spread north, he added, and researchers need to investigate whether young people's moods are impacted by the changing environment.

New jobs in the renewable energy sector

Part of the organizations' work will also look for ways First Nations can take advantage of economic opportunities under Ontario's proposed new cap and trade system.

"One of the most important stores of carbon on the planet is in the Hudson Bay lowlands.  If it weren't for the peat and the carbon that's stored in the peat in the Hudson Bay lowlands, the planet would probably be somewhere in the neighbourhood of half a degree warmer than it is," Pearson said.

"We haven't yet found a way to put a value on it, but maybe that's going to be part of cap and trade and carbon offsets."

The other way cap and trade could benefit northern communities, Pearson said, is by creating jobs in the solar and wind energy sectors and by creating jobs installing insulation.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer was in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Thursday to make the funding announcement.