Vancouver: Adaptation Canada 2020 in the eyes of a Women4Climate, Sylvia Grace Borda

Sylvia Grace Borda is a Woman4Climate mentee from the Vancouver (Canada) cohort in 2019. Sylvia is passionate about urban planning, climate adaptation, and supporting intersections with community-engaged and visual arts projects. She believes that robust civic infrastructure can be co-designed with multi-disciplinary partnerships to create resilient and sustainable communities. Sylvia is the founder of C.A.R.E  - Climate Arts for Resilient Environments - whose purpose is to engage government, non-profit and citizen groups in urban greening, place-making and policy making projects through arts facilitation.

In this text, Sylvia reports back from her participation as a speaker and attendee at the national Adaptation Canada 2020 conference which was held in Vancouver, February 19th-21st, 2020. 


Adaptation is Canada’s national conference on climate change adaptation, and serves as a confluence of energy and expertise from different sectors, disciplines and regions of the country. Participants and stakeholders come together to discuss and act on climate impacts and opportunities for risk reduction.

Building on the success of the 2016 conference in Ottawa, Adaptation Canada 2020 was the second in the series to bring together over 700 participants to speak, network, workshop and learn about community-centred, indigenous knowledge-based research, and government policy in addressing climate change resilient communities and ecosystems. 


The Conference was opened by keynote, Per Espen Stoknes, Director of the Centre for Green Growth at the Norwegian Business School. As a psychologist, Stoknes outlined five main psychological barriers to climate action, focusing on how people can ignore climate science if it is not personified at a community level. Stoknes emphasised that strategies must be social, positive, simple, and story-based to help add meaning to lives and to activate community response. 

Stoknes’ concepts of generating positive, meaningful actions supported by a diverse audience are similar to strategies used by creative practitioners to engage communities. In a panel session on creative engagement, I had an opportunity to expand on the importance of keeping the message local and how the visual arts can play a role in this. I spoke about how creative engagement and art outcomes can build a story that locates sustainability experiences into a proactive and landscape of stewardship.  Communities that are empowered by participation in climate-based arts project can create legacies by sharing their learning and experiences. 



An example of a visual arts project which I presented is a panoramic portrait series called called Farm Tableaux, Surrey, BCThe Farm Tableaux series is an attempt to bridge contemporary art and social awareness about agriculture and land stewardship in Canada. Farm Tableaux was produced as an internet-based artwork capturing portraits (or ‘tableaux’) of local farms and farm work using Google Street View in order to engage the widest possible audiences.  This direct collaboration between artist and farmers led to a robust community owned asset. 

The farms as portrayed in the resulting artwork provide an unrivalled opportunity for the viewer, anywhere in the world, to more intimately experience first-hand the sustainable, and resilient practices of small food producers working their farms.

Food security remains an urgent discussion and participants exchanged examples of local solutions and wider discussion to prioritise community and policy action.  A workshop on health and equity made me realise that climate change is one of the most significant public health threats across the globe. How can we overcome an overwhelming lack of access to timely health resources in a climate crisis, particularly among vulnerable populations?  Attendees agreed on the need to break down boundaries of ‘power’ and building capacity by providing communities with the ability to share their strengths and needs.


In the final plenary of the conference, I had the privilege of hearing Nobel Peace Prize nominee (2007) and Canadian Inuit, Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Watt-Cloutier has decades of experience working with global decision-makers in her role as environmental, cultural, and human rights advocate. She passionately spoke about the significant role of the Arctic as a global cooling system.  Without this system in balance – the Earth will continue to warm up. Cloutier believes a powerful answer to our failings in tackling this catastrophe is a mother-based nurturing system aligned with an Indigenous perspective. This led to a stirring message which I think sums up a powerful call to action: Protection from climate change is a fundamental human right.

In reflecting back about Adaptation Canada 2020, I can say it was like being part of a dynamic learning system - as cyclical and connected as the environment itself.  Shared learning is a really fundamental part of what can shape resilience in a community. 

From Stopnes to Cloutier and speakers in between – it was also clear how the land and culture need to be part of the answer. Culture changes as the land changes – as an artist, this vision resonated with me and with the diverse audiences. Having more creative solutions brought up front can help in our understanding what is happening to the environment.  As Coultier concluded, we need both resiliency and imagination to strengthen our approaches as we try and problem solve together. All of us on this planet are collectively and inextricably linked.