Why Cities are the problem-solvers of climate change

2021-09-17

 |  The Starfish

Record breaking weather events are becoming the new normal and local governments are the only defence. 

From devastating wildfires in British Columbia’s interior to a once in a lifetime ‘heat dome” across the coast; these out-of-the-ordinary weather events are surging across the province, resulting in evacuation orders, loss of property and death. And yet these anomalies are here to stay, recent climatology modelling predicts similar heat waves every 5 to 10 years by 2040. Municipalities are often alone on the front-lines of these extreme weather events, left to quickly adapt to these unusual forecasted events while building cities to handle them in the future. So why are other authorities hanging them out to dry?

Shouldn’t the feds step-up?

Canada’s federal government has been criticized for not stepping-up when it comes to climate action. The Trudeau government has been scrutinized for creating plans with no actionable items and most famously declaring a climate emergency only to follow up with the approval of the TransCanada pipeline. While some of these judgements are warranted, the federal government isn’t the best match for direct climate action. 

Cities are at the mercy of climate change. Local municipalities are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change as they are responsible for and affected by the infrastructure and any mitigation measures put in place. When it comes to producing infrastructure that withstands future climate anomalies such as wildfires, flooding and rising sea levels; municipalities often take immediate action. And since municipalities want to prevent climate related devastation, they prioritize green initiatives such as improvements to local transit systems or installation of EV charging stations. More importantly, however, Local municipalities have a short feedback loop between themselves and the people. Meaning, they must provide actionary policies their community members want, otherwise, they risk backlash and re-election. And as municipal governments carry less political baggage compared to federal politicians, they have better engagement levels with the general public. 

The “Trickle-up Approach” 

With deeper community connections, safety concerns and their individual approach to build a future for tomorrow, cities have greater climate action success than other governmental or international policy-makers, according to Concordia University’s researcher Joel Bothello. He believes municipal climate policies should “trickle up” into provincial, federal and international policy decisions. Local governments influence half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions making their involvement in climate action policy an integral piece to the solution. A single federal climate action initiative isn’t a catch-all and success hinges on individualized creative solutions that are shared across governments. Cities are the natural problem-solvers against climate change as they produce municipality-specific plans to serve their communities best.

So what are the local canadian cities doing about climate change? 

What local canadian communities are doing 

The City of Vancouver proposed a climate emergency action plan that reduces 50% of emissions by 2030. Their policy utilizes four “game-changing” initiatives that are traffic reduction into the city core through transport pricing, carbon surcharge on new higher priced gas or diesel cars, pollution limits on existing buildings while transitioning older buildings from fossil fuel usage and lastly, setting requirements for low carbon construction material. 

A city in Canada’s sunniest province has solar power at the forefront of its climate action plan. The City of Saskatoon aims to reduce 54 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by converting their primary energy source of coal into solar energy. By 2036, all new homes built in Saskatoon must maximize their roof area solar panel capacity. 

In 2019, the City of Ottawa declared a climate emergency and dedicated $250,000 in research aiming to move the city towards renewable energy to meet greenhouse gas emission goals. Like Ottawa, the City of Toronto declared a climate emergency, allowing for the prioritization of climate related goals. Currently, the City of Toronto is revisiting their climate action plan in response to the declaration and is aiming for a net-zero framework. 

How to get involved 

Since climate action success is contingent on community response, here are some simple ways you can get involved:

  • Vote!
  • Write to your MLA about the climate crisis including actions you want seen
  • Sign petitions calling for climate action
  • Volunteer with local organizations that support environmental leadership 
  • Be present at town-hall meetings asking for the general public’s feedback on important changes in your community