Three ways cities can take the lead on climate change


Cities are on the front line of climate change. While their footprints cover a mere 2% of the Earth’s surface, they consume 78% of global energy and account for over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 80% of Canadians reside in urban areas and this trend is accelerating. Critically, a recent study found that most Canadian cities are ill-prepared to manage the impacts of climate change.

Canadians are increasingly standing up against the devastating impacts of climate change. In June 2019, the House of Commons declared a national climate emergency. In September, more than 6 million people around the world joined Greta Thunberg to stage a global strike for climate. And during this fall’s federal election, voters across the country made every party realize that climate policy is an urgent issue for people of all ages.

Yet the federal government’s rhetorical commitment to climate action rings hollow. It’s the city governments that are increasingly joining global climate movements and playing a major role in tackling climate change. Indeed, hundreds of Canadian municipalities have declared climate emergencies but many have yet to take action.

Here are three evidence-based steps that will allow cities to walk the climate change walk.

1. Embrace resilience thinking

Resilience is rapidly becoming a buzzword that’s at risk of losing its meaning. We define resilience thinking as an approach that recognizes the complex interactions between society and our ecosystems, embraces the idea of change and acknowledges uncertainty.

Resilience thinking requires acknowledgement from municipal governments that climate-related changes may be unanticipated and sometimes catastrophic, such as the flooding in Alberta in 2013. With resilience thinking, however, we can move forward with solutions that allow municipalities to continue to flourish despite changes we anticipate and those that surprise us.

The Netherlands, for example, approaches flood mitigation in ways that provide “room for the river” such as increasing the river’s depth, storing water and relocating dykes. Calgary is collaborating with other governments and citizens to protect the city from a future flood on par with 2013 using a Flood Resilience Plan.

Promoting resilience thinking is critical: how we think about the world has enormous implications for the solutions we prioritize. This is true for decision makers—who hold the authority to shift the institutions that govern our cities. But, it is also true for municipal residents—who wield tremendous influence over who governs and which issues receive urgent attention.