Climate Change Law Blog Series: Cities and Climate Change

Climate Change Law Blog Series: Cities and Climate Change

This is the third post in the Environmental Law Centre’s new blog series exploring climate change law in Canada. This blog series will provide updates on climate change law developments and include insights from our related law reform research. This blog series is generously funded by the Alberta Law Foundation.

 

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Cities are the drivers of progress and innovation, and through the Compact of Mayors, they can help nations set new, aggressive climate targets over the next year.

Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change

 

According to the New Climate Economy Report, over half the world’s population lives in cities and account for approximately 70% of energy use. Cities design and deliver many of the services used on a daily basis by their citizens. As such, cities can play an essential role in reducing the trajectory of GHG emissions and creating resilient communities that can adapt to the changes caused by climate change.
In recognition of this important role, local and regional leaders from around the world gathered during the recent COP 21 Climate Change meetings in Paris. In the resulting report – Adapt. Curb. Engage. 21 Solutions to Protect our Shared Planet (Sommet des élus locaux pour le climat, 4 Décembre 2015) (the “Cities Report”) – numerous local climate change solutions were identified. These solutions can be broadly categorized into the development of resilience strategies and action plans, implementation of local low-emission solutions, and engagement in partnerships to work with the public, other governments, and industry.

 

Given that cities are “highly exposed to climate change impacts”, the development of resilience strategies and action plans is necessary (Cities Report, page 5). Several aspects of resilience are highlighted in the Cities Report, including:

  • Management of water resources to become more resilient to increased precipitation and flooding, or catastrophic drought.
  • Disaster management.
  • Develop urban resilience to “integrate operational functions across sectors in order to provide stability in the face of environmental stressors” (Cities Report, page 8).
  • Health and disease planning because “shifts in temperature, air pollution, precipitation, and humidity – all factors that contribute to the distribution of seasonal diseases” (Cities Report, page 9).

The Cities Report points out the importance of social awareness and education regarding climate change risks and the opportunities for adaptation noting that, without public support, climate adaption programs are likely to fail. As well, the importance of financial support to implement resilience strategies is raised in the Cities Report.

 

The Cities Report provides several illustrations of steps cities can take to curb GHG emissions using local low-emission solutions. These include:

  • Building codes for new structures and the retrofitting of existing, inefficient buildings.
  • Policy and market tools that lead to improved energy efficiency in buildings.
  • Transportation approaches that redesign traffic flows, reconfigure urban development, and increase use of lower emissions vehicles.
  • Innovative technologies to tap into local, renewable energy sources.
  • Use green spaces to “alleviate transportation emissions by ensuring systematic proximity of basic facilities for all, by providing public and green spaces… and by creating communities that encourage walking or cycling” (Cities Report, page 18).
  • Encourage urban agriculture which has a shorter supply chain, reduced transportation costs, and lower emissions.
  • Development of a circular economy in which material flows form a complete loop thereby reducing waste and creating opportunities to reuse materials.

The last category of climate change solutions that can be adopted by cities is engagement in partnerships and use of platforms that “reach beyond municipal borders to work with civil society, provincial governments, national governments, and the private sector” (Cities Report, page 21). These solutions include the adoption of new governance models and the use of innovative financing mechanisms.

 

As stated in the Cities Report (page 23):

Through their respective powers and authorities, city and regional governments play an essential leadership role in addressing climate change. … Enhancing cities and regions control over their budgets and decision-making processes can enable them to take even more transformative climate action.

So what changes can be made to empower Alberta’s cities and other municipalities to take greater action on climate change using solutions such as those identified in the Cities Report?

 

In Alberta, municipalities are governed by the Municipal Government Act (the “MGA”). Several changes to the MGA could be made to facilitate climate change action by municipalities. For example, implementation of local low-emission solutions focused on buildings could be facilitated by:

  • The MGA should be amended to allow municipalities to impose minimum energy requirements and minimum renewable energy standards above and beyond those imposed by the building codes adopted in the Safety Codes Act, R.S.A. 2000, S-1. This would enable municipalities to set high standards for buildings within their borders, including retrofitting of existing, inefficient buildings.
  • The MGA should expand the revenue generation options available to municipalities to enable the use of creative financing tools (such as loans repaid through property taxes or utility bills) to encourage adoption of more energy efficient or renewable energy technologies on a residential basis. Currently, municipalities are restricted as to whom they can loan money and as to the purposes for which taxes can be levied.

Other important local low-emission solutions include those focused on transportation (such as redesign of traffic flows and reconfiguring urban development) and the use green spaces. Solutions such as these can be facilitated by expressly incorporating environmental protection and management into the MGA planning provisions and by expressly allowing bylaws for environmental purposes.

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