Cities are “at the front edge” of dealing with climate change, but municipal governments say they need more financial support and should be engaged more in national climate policy development.
“Given that the majority of the global population lives in urban centres, cities are responsible for organizing many of the activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, such as public transportation, land use planning, and construction,” reports CBC.
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But cities often have tight budgets and limited capacity for the transition to green economies, while options for expanding revenue streams are limited.
Though local governments traditionally fatten lean coffers by raising property taxes, the modest increases that homeowners tolerate are not enough to fund ambitious climate initiatives. Other strategies, like implementing fees on carbon-intensive activities, can be politically unsavoury—a recent attempt to fund climate-friendly initiatives by imposing parking fees was shot down by voters in Vancouver, CBC notes.
So cities will need a stronger financial base to make the dramatic changes being outlined in the international community’s climate negotiations.
“Ultimately, whatever Canada agrees to internationally has to come home to roost,” Sarah Burch, Canada Research Chair in sustainability, governance and innovation at the University of Waterloo, told CBC. “It hits the ground, really, in cities and communities in Canada and around the world.”
Municipal governments in Canada are calling for resources and support to help achieve the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris climate agreement—the recently-adopted pledge to reduce emissions 40 to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. They say they will also need to be more engaged in designing the national strategy.
“Local governments are crucial to ensuring that Canada meets, or exceeds, its NDC. A bottom-up approach to action, met with a top-down investment in capacity to deliver, is key,” writes Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue in a recent discussion paper. “Including cities in the NDC process will allow us to act quickly and decisively.”
Involving municipal governments in national climate policy is also important to account for cities’ differences. Small, rural cities and large, urban areas will need to respond to climate change in different ways, and engaging local governments can support the development of strategies that account for those differences, says the report.
Policies must also account for differences in cities’ contributions to global emissions.
“Emissions per capita vary significantly across Canadian cities due to land use patterns and density, which impact building and transportation emissions, but also in large part due to the carbon intensity of the electricity consumed in cities,” Canadian Urban Sustainability Practitioners Managing Director Allison Ashcroft posted on LinkedIn. She said 26% of Canadian emissions from electricity generation are produced by just four cities—Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Halifax.
Canada’s NDC is already considered “highly insufficient” for holding average global warming to 1.5°C. For the federal government to act “quickly and decisively” to address the climate crisis, cities and municipalities must be empowered with resources and political leverage, says the Wosk Centre report.
“People are in cities, our economies are in cities, and greenhouse gas emissions are in cities,” former Toronto mayor David Miller told CBC. “That means that where there are solutions, there is a huge opportunity to address climate change.”
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