Imagine life in a low-carbon community. The streets are crowded with buses and cyclists, and skyscrapers and condominiums tower above the sidewalks. Office spaces are close together, your apartment is only a few blocks away, and your morning commute is surprisingly bearable.

If it sounds like the city you already live in, that's because it is.

But look more closely at this futuristic community — the buildings around you are powering themselves. The condo roofs are plated with solar panels and the gas station around the corner is pumping out biofuel. Heat from the sewer system beneath your feet is being used to warm up offices and homes, both of which are close together to encourage your commute on foot.

Such a world is possible, but provincial and federal governments must first put their trust in municipalities, according to a Vancouver-based think tank with a mission to foster sustainable communities.

Huge climate action potential in cities and towns

"The truth of it is that Canada cannot meet its climate change obligations without cities and communities," said Charley Beresford, executive director of the Columbia Institute and co-author of its new report, Top Asks for Climate Action — Ramping Up Low Carbon Communities.

"I think it’s more about developing a respect for the role that cities and communities play. I think cities as a solution doesn’t seem to be in that top line debate [on climate change], and they should be because there is so much hope there."

As of late, much climate change discussion in Canada has focused on oilsands expansion and the creation of a national climate plan anticipated in October this year. But cities and communities directly or indirectly influence 50 per cent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, said Beresford, a substantial contribution that can no longer be sidelined.

Her institute's report, released Thursday, analyzes what federal and provincial governments could do to empower municipalities to deliver climate change solutions. It recommends a few key funding and policy options to deliver on capacity-building, smart growth, harnessing local energy, and reducing carbon pollution from transportation and buildings.

"There are lots of communities that have tools at hand, but they need some additional program and policy support from the other two orders of government to maximize that," she told National Observer. "Many of them are already taking action that could be greatly amplified with particular federal and provincial supports.”

And after a nearly a decade of frosty relationships with the Harper government, cash-strapped municipalities are desperate to get more involved. Since the Trudeau government took over in late 2015, municipalities have already played a much larger role in climate change discussion and had a delegation present at the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.

Community Energy Plan, climate change, municipal governments
A map of Community Energy Plans in Canada shows how many Canadian municipalities are already on board with climate change action. Infographic by Community Energy Planning Getting to Implementation in Canada.

Lean more on municipalities, say councillors

The reality is, said Toronto City Coun. Michael Layton, that most constituents interact more with municipal governments than their provincial and federal counterparts. Municipalities deliver their services, license their businesses, get them to work and back on the bus, zone their land, and maintain their green spaces.

Cumulatively, these operations not only have an enormous impact on the environment, he explained, but also put cities in the best position to determine where clean energy dollars can best be spent.

"Everyone wants to talk about the big steps, but municipalities are actually the ones who will have to deliver them on the ground in 10 little steps," said Layton. "Provincial and federal governments may need to give guidance — they certainly will need to give resources — and they may need to give regulatory authority to municipalities or set standards for municipalities for us to meet, but they need to include municipalities in the discussion."

Changing the national building code to ensure that new homes and buildings are ready to integrate renewable energy sources such as solar panels into their design is one example proposed in the report. Offering incentives for retrofitting old buildings and putting a firm price on carbon pollution are other proposals that would reduce energy consumption from households.

But one of the 'top asks' of the report is for provincial and federal governments to change laws to ensure a range of climate-friendly outcomes. These could ensure that climate and energy policies are integrated into all land-use planning, or that transit and active transportation infrastructure projects are favoured over auto-only infrastructure. Another suggestion would be to fund community and Indigenous-owned renewable energy capacity.

Such changes are long overdue, argued Vancouver City Coun. Andrea Reimer, as industrialization has brought cities to the point where "fossil fuels are literally killing us."

cycling, Vancouver, bike lanes, green transit, public transit
Expect to see more families using green transportation in low-carbon communities, like this father and daughter biking on 10th Avenue in Vancouver, B.C. Photo by Paul Krueger, Flickr.

Climate action and local economies

"That is really the whole point of the federation," she explained. "We all rise or fall together. That’s the way Canada is constructed.”

Empowering municipalities is about reducing emissions and vulnerability to extreme weather impacts, she added, but it's also about strengthening local economies by locally-sourcing these transitions and improving overall quality of life. These changes — though they may change little about cities visually — will have a massive impact on air quality, personal health, and revenue.

“We might not have been able to make transformative change [so far] except in the bigger cities like Vancouver, but suddenly there's this opportunity to supercharge that and have the licenses and pilot programs from Vancouver really expand across the entire country.”

More than 180 communities in Canada (representing 50 per cent of the population) already have innovative Community Energy Plans, the report found, but with municipalities collecting less than 15 cents of every taxpayer dollar, most lack the resources to take them to the next level. Both Reimer and Layton were one of more than 100 locally elected officials, stakeholders, and community members who participated in the report's research, and even large cities like Vancouver and Toronto are struggling.

"We're fighting for every dollar that comes in," said Layton. "We’re also at the mercy at the other two levels of government which fund us to a variety of degrees with gas tax and transfers through the province, but when they start retracting, the level of service people expect is the same."

Both councillors endorsed the recommendations in the institute's report, including one that the federal government re-allocate roughly $2 billion it spends on fossil fuel subsidies to low-carbon initiatives at the community level. The document will be sent to federal and provincial leaders, as well local leaders who can use it to shape their own proposals.

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Comments

"Climate action!" What an idiotic notion! This "Duck Speak" is getting so tired!
There is absolutely NO threat from CO2, to the climate, or anything else!

Circa the 1800s, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric CO2 is estimated to have been about 275 ppm. In other words, (1,000,000 / 275 = 3636) for every 3636 particles of air in the atmosphere, 1, was a CO2 particle (3636:1).

During the intervening period, CO2 levels have risen to about 400 ppm, an increase of about 125 ppm. In other words, (1,000,000 / 125 = 8000) for every 8000 particles of air, 1 particle of CO2 has been added, over the last 166 years (8000:1). That means that, since the Industrial Revolution, (1 particle/ 166 years = 1 particle / (8000*166=1,328000) 1,328,000 particles / year) the concentration of atmospheric CO2 has increased an average of about 1 particle of CO2, for every 1,328,000 particles of air, each year, for the last 166 years (1,328,000:1).

So,…. IF we are magnanimous, in the extreme, bordering on psychotic, and are willing to accept responsibility for all the additional CO2 in our atmosphere, accumulated over the last 166 years, then we are responsible for adding 1 particle of CO2, for every 1.33 million particle of air……. per year! (It is probably more like, we add 1 particle of CO2, for every 3 Million particles of air……per year! To be realistic…) And that is for the whole of the worlds’ population. Per nation or per capita, the amount is so small, you need a telescope to see all the zeros in the ratio.

How can anyone in their right-mind, believe for even an instant, that such an infinitesimal amount of such a benign and beneficial trace gas, could ever be able to affect the Huge Heat Balance of our entire planetary ecosystem? The very notion defies all reason and logic. If CO2 were dynamite, we couldn’t make enough to light-up a firefly’s ass! And even if CO2 could affect climate, in any way, which it can’t, we still couldn’t produce enough to have any affect, at all!

The whole AGW farce is a fraud and a crime.

If one compares CO2 levels, with the lives and extinction of the Dinosaurs, one will notice that the Dinosaurs who spawned when CO2 was near its peak, died out at the same time that CO2 hit bottom, at about where it is today, after starting out at about 2500 ppm, about 6 or 7 times higher. There is no question that CO2 levels were many times higher back then, than they are today and that not only were the Dinosaurs big, everything was big! The whole ecosystem was more robust, which makes survival a lot easier, for all living things.
But that is the way the natural system works. The pendulum swings from one extreme to another. When the CO2 was high, the plants grew to be huge. The ancestor of the garden variety fern were 30 meters tall but the ecosystem over responded and started taking out too much CO2, at which point the plants were causing their own demise and in the process, the whole of the higher orders of life, including the Dinosaurs. The levels of atmospheric CO2 are global, ergo, the effects are global, not regional or centralized as would have been the case with other scenarios. Since then we have been restricted by the lack of atmospheric CO2 but with a little luck, we may be able to restore some of that robustness. If we don't do something stupid and miss our chance!
Like be taken in, by a bunch of fear mongers, that have connive, cajoled and conspired, strictly for the purposes of personal gain but under the guies of protecting the common good, have created a "Contrived and Unfounded, Non-existent Threat!" Even I can abide this type of fraud if, all that is involved is an intangible like money or power but when that fraud affects all future life on this planet, as any attempt to reduce, capture or sequester CO2 does, then it becomes personal, because it directly affects me and to me that is unacceptable. These AGW frauds have vilified the most benign and harmless, and yet the substance, the most essential to all life on this planet, CO2, and in the process, endangering all future life including the coming 10 Billion Souls, including our own selves and descendants, all for personal gain. How altruistic of them!
Human development has been hampered up until now but we have reached a point where we can change, not the climate but the ecosystem.
Once one understands the true mechanism of climate and what climate change really means, one realizes that there is absolutely nothing humans or solar radiation can do, to affect climate. There is absolutely nothing to fear in terms of climate, however, we are perfectly capable of fouling up the environment and as always it will be human ignorance and stupidity that does it again!

In 2012, the G20 self-reported inefficient fossil fuel subsidies for Canada were estimated at US$ 3.3 billion (OECD DATA). The International Monetary Fund (not suspected to be a radical left wing environmental organization), one of the world's most respected financial institutions, estimates Canadian fossil fuel subsidies at US$26.4 billion. The IMF estimation takes into account the costs caused by polluters to local population by air pollution as well as people affected by flood, droughts and storms being driven by climate change. The IMF said that ending worldwide subsides for fossil fuels (estimated at around US$5.3 trillion) would cut global carbon emissions by 20%.
At the 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the G20 members, 19 countries and the European Union that make up 85% of global GDP, agreed to "rationalize and phase out over the medium term (?) inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption." At the 2013 summit in St. Petersburg, they reaffirmed this resolution. Yet that same year, these countries funnelled US$88 billion into exploring new reserves of oil, gas, and coal.
In Canada, federal and provincial governments continue to provide subsidies for the exploration and production of oil and gas. These subsidies amount to paying the fossil fuel industry around $19/tonne of GHG to pollute. During the election, Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated Canada's commitment to phase out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. (CBC News, June 29, 2015: "Justin Trudeau's Plan: End Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Invest in Clean Tech.")
Faith Birol, chief economist and now head of the International Energy Agency (another radical left wing environmental organization), warned that energy companies which continue to invest in fossil fuels industry and don't take global action to fight climate change seriously, risk wasting billions of dollars and miss out on investments opportunities in clean energy. Faith Birol: " We see some moves from energy companies in the direction of sustainable development. However, it is not at the level you would like to see. If they think that their business are immune to the impacts of climate policy, they are making a strategic mistake." Without solving carbon emissions in the energy sector, we have no chance to solve the climate change problem. ( The Guardian, July 09, 2015: "Fossil fuel firms risk wasting billions by ignoring climate change, says IEA.")

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