Accelerating the transition to low-carbon cities

April 25, 2016

acts of leadership on climate change


There is an urgent need to accelerate the transition to low-carbon cities.

Despite the best efforts of many cities and supporting organizations, we have not seen the uptake or progress we need to help meet Canada’s international climate change commitments.

We are great at planning and pilots. We need scale and we need it fast.

Our country is among the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases in the world and of those top 10 emitters, Canada has the highest emissions per capita.  Our greenhouse gas emissions are 18 percent higher today than in 1990.  Meanwhile, the National Energy Board recently projected Canada’s use of fossil fuels will increase 22 percent over the next 25 years at the current rate of consumption.

The numbers aren’t good.  It leads some to throw up their hands and call it a lost cause.

Most community energy plans remain aspirational because they do not challenge the regulatory, institutional and market status quo necessary to substantially change the energy performance of a city. Those that do face considerable resistance – witness the current debate in Guelph about their community energy plan.

System change – and this is what we are talking about here – does not come easily, cannot be done in isolation and must engage multiple actors from many sectors; local governments are but one sector with many actors.

The one good thing about the mayor’s comments in Guelph is that it is refocusing attention on both the opportunity and the need to manage the transition to a low-carbon economy. I have confidence the report to update the plan will be approved by Guelph City Council.  However, implementation success will depend on the engagement of the community. Guelph lost some ground over the last year and a half but nothing that cannot be made up as they join global efforts to decarbonize the economy by 2050.

Current regulations, standards, laws, relationship roles, values, behavioural norms, belief systems and more pose formidable barriers to innovation whether it is in the utility sector, development industry or improving the energy performance of existing homes.

We need new platforms and models for engagement with the singular purpose of accelerating the transition to low carbon and climate resilient cities.