Think globally, act locally.

Municipalities are key to achieving our climate change goals.

Lisa Stilborn is the Canadian Fuels Association’s Vice-President, Ontario.

Issued in March 2016, the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change ushered in a new era of collaboration between the federal, provincial and territorial governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the First Ministers’ communiqué on the declaration made no mention of Canadian cities.

Nearly 60 percent of Canadians now live in large urban centres; more than 15 million people live in our five largest cities. Buildings and transportation activity are concentrated in urban areas and account for one third of Canada’s total emissions. Clearly, local governments also play a key role in bringing emissions down, not just as partners with other levels of government, but also as leaders in at least two focus areas that fall within municipal jurisdictions.

1. Increasing urban intensification
Getting people out of suburbs and into urban cores will help get us out of cars and onto our feet, bicycles and public transit systems. While federal and provincial funding for transit is important, we also need local councils to enact new zoning bylaws and land-use plans to promote smart growth and propel high-density, mixed-use and transit-oriented development.

2. Boosting energy efficiency in buildings and homes
The provinces recognize the pivotal role municipalities must play in this effort. Ontario’s recent Climate Change Action Plan calls for free energy retrofits of existing homes and apartment buildings, and amendments to the Ontario Building Code to set new long-term energy efficiency targets. Municipalities and local electricity utilities will be instrumental in delivering on these commitments; for example, by setting lower carbon standards for new buildings and installing energy-saving technologies in homes.
 

Bringing out the best in citizen engagement

We are, by nature, resistant to change. When there’s a real or perceived impact on our quality of life or property value we tend to become only more entrenched. Yet we are seeing a growing, if grudging, willingness on the part of Canadians to shoulder the major lifestyle changes that will be necessary to reverse the effects of climate change. We are slowly accepting that the problem is no longer someone else’s to solve.

In climate change, adversity and opportunity converge. In the municipalities Canadians call home, we are arguably at our most influential and effective. It is not hard to imagine that sustained leadership by municipal councils could spark the levels of citizen engagement and support needed to shrink our national carbon footprint.