Connecting climate change to food systems and health in Indigenous communities

Portrait of Dr. Tristan Pearce outside at UNBC's Prince George campus, the bookstore skylights and McCaffray Hall in the background.

New research that examines the connection between climate change, food systems and health related to Indigenous Peoples and local communities is the focus of a $1.5 million project at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Dr. Tristan Pearce, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor in UNBC’s Department of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, is leading the multi-university, multi-national research initiative called the Indigenous Peoples Observatory Network (IPON) that will work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities in 13 different countries. The project is funded over three years by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s New Frontiers International Joint Initiative for Research in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, and includes contributions from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), UK Research and Innovation, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The research team comprises a mix of academics, non-academics, and Indigenous and local community members, and involves researchers from various disciplines including human health, political theory and ethics, rural sociology, demography, ecology, agricultural economics, and geography. Pearce said the research team development is the result of relationships cultivated over several years by the team members in their respective countries and areas of work. 

“As we take on the challenge of leading a sustainable future, it is important to understand how climate stressors interact with food systems, health, and well-being across regions,” says Pearce. “This understanding can further the design and implementation of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies developed by community members and local organizations.”

IPON is anticipated to have local to global impacts. Locally, IPON will generate information needed by communities across the partner regions to develop, and in some cases, revise climate change plans intended to build resilience and reduce vulnerabilities. Globally, IPON will establish a new area of research centered around Indigenous understandings of and responses to climate risk, which has wide-ranging potential for reshaping and re-conceptualizing how climate risk is studied across diverse fields and regions.

“The research Dr. Pearce conducts is critically important and aligns with all four of UNBC’s strategic themes outlined in our new strategic plan, Ready, as well as our new vision of Leading a Sustainable Future,” says Dr. Paula Wood-Adams, UNBC Vice-President Research, Innovation and External Relations. “The inspiring work of this impressive research team, led by Dr. Pearce, will contribute to reconciliation, empower northern and local communities, and see local solutions developed that have a truly global impact.” 

Pearce will oversee the project, which is anticipated to run from April 2024 to April 2027, and co-lead an Indigenous Peoples Observatory in the Canadian Arctic, Fiji, and Australia.

“The New Frontiers in Research Fund provides federal research funding for innovative interdisciplinary research projects that focus on high risk, high reward research,” says UNBC Research Project Officer Sharleen Balogh. “The International Joint Initiative for Research in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation initiative funds international collaborative research projects led by Canadian researchers that aim to address worldwide challenges affecting vulnerable groups that are caused by climate change.”