Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC)

Project Details

Canada (National Scale Project)
Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), Indigenous Services Canada (ISC)
2019 – 2021
Team Member(s):
Jimena Eyzaguirre, Andrew Thompson, Marc Nelitz
Service Area(s):
Climate Change Adaptation
Services Employed:
Risk & Vulnerability Assessment, Facilitation & Engagement, Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis


A changing climate is affecting the ability of public-sector organizations to achieve their objectives and the need to anticipate, respond and adapt to these impacts is increasingly clear. The Government of Canada (GoC) recognizes the importance of “Climate-resilient services and operations”. Notably, the GoC’s Greening Government Strategy requires all departments and agencies to understand the risks posed by the impacts of climate change to federal assets, services and operations across the country by 2021 and to take action to reduce these risks by 2022.

In 2019, Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) retained the Stratos ESSA Joint Venture (henceforth Stratos/ESSA) to conduct climate change vulnerability assessments for each department. The purpose was to assess the risks that the physical impacts of climate change pose to the achievement of departmental results and to lay the foundation for departmental adaptation planning. CIRNAC continues to renew the nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis; modernize Government of Canada structures to enable Indigenous peoples to build capacity and support their vision of self-determination; and lead the Government of Canada’s work in the North. ISC works collaboratively with partners to improve access to high-quality services for First Nations, Inuit and Métis . The ability of these departments to continue achieving program outcomes as the impacts of climate change intensify is important for advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Our Approach

Implemented between October 2019 and March 2021, the project applied best practices in strategic climate change risk and vulnerability assessment. International standards and guidelines on risk and vulnerability assessment and management (ISO 31000 risk management standard, the ISO 14090 adaptation standard, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines), as well as approaches applied in other federal departments, guided the overall methodology. Given the nature of departmental activities and the level of climate expertise of decision-makers, the use of basic information about climate change and its impacts was appropriate to inform this strategic assessment of climate vulnerabilities and risk . In addition, the approach integrated awareness-raising about climate change impacts throughout the process and promoted dialogue when estimating climate change risk; both of these aspects are important when laying the groundwork for adaptation planning.

The assessment involved three phases of engagement and information collection with departmental staff from CIRNAC and ISC:

  • A survey focused on characterizing program and service areas;
  • Interviews to identify and characterize potential climate change risks; and
  • Virtual workshops to validate and assess risks.

All program and service areas were initially in scope, but screening was done at each phase to focus effort on those areas where the potential for impacts was higher.

After sharing the results of the assessment (rated risks for each mandate area in each department), Stratos/ESSA also facilitated an adaptation planning workshop for both CIRNAC and ISC to initiate discussions on next steps for adaptation planning.

The COVID-19 pandemic created both challenges and benefits for project implementation. These included:

  • Limited availability of essential workers responding to COVID-19 impacts (e.g. Public Health Officers) resulting project timelines extending;
  • Transitioning risk assessment workshops to a virtual format including the use of virtual risk assessment voting software; and,
  • Increased ability to identify indirect risks to the departments that could arise from an external disruption such as COVID-19 (e.g. impacts on employees, supply chains, hazards in communities).


The Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments that Stratos/ESSA completed for CIRNAC and ISC represent our commitment to work with organizations to help them understand and adapt to climate risks. This project achieved the following results:

  • Cross-cutting risk themes for each department to support the development of strategic adaptation approaches that engage the whole department
  • Program/service area climate vulnerability data including factors that shape each program/service area’s exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity
  • Initial adaptation planning priorities and other adaptation planning considerations for each department
  • Increased awareness and capacity of CIRNAC and ISC staff to understand and assess climate change impacts as a result of the strong focus on engagement throughout the process (50 to 100 employees engaged in each department)




[4] Risk is a function of the likelihood of a program being affected by climate change hazards (informed by exposure, sensitivity) and the consequences for the Department. Higher ratings for both likelihood and impact lead to high risk ratings.