A zero-carbon fire hall in Ontario, a low-energy courthouse in New Brunswick and a "sustainable" restoration of Lac-Mégantic's destroyed downtown core are among 48 municipal projects planned in Canada's battle against climate change this year.

The initiatives will reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions by more than 310,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to the federal government — roughly the same as pulling 71,000 cars off the road for one year.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced a $72-million investment in the 48 projects across Canada on Friday.

"Canada is all in on climate change and we're willing to partner with whoever wants to be serious on taking climate action," she told reporters in Ottawa. "While we know that in the U.S. the federal government has pulled out of the Paris Agreement, we've actually seen cities really step up and say that they are going to be climate leaders."

Middlesex, Ontario, firehall, net-zero, carbon neutral
With some help from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the federal government, the Municipality of Middlesex Centre, Ont. plans to turn this fire hall into a net-zero building. Photo courtesy of Middlesex Centre

Funding to rebuild Lac-Mégantic

The funding was announced in partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), which represents 90 per cent of all Canadians living in municipalities. The association plays a major role in divvying up the Green Municipal Fund — a pot of more than $600 million federal dollars to support community projects that create healthier, cleaner environments and strengthen climate change resilience.

"... Scaling up local expertise is essential to Canada meeting its climate goals, as municipalities have control of over 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada," said Clark Somerville, past president of FCM. "We're at the forefront of climate solutions and that's what this announcement is all about."

Projects among the new batch of grants and loans include the retrofitting and renewal of a courthouse in Hampton, N.B. that is expected to reduce the building's energy consumption by 69 per cent, and waste collection, treatment, disposal and reclamation activities in Manicouagan, Que. that could reclaim up to 65 per cent of landfill leftovers.

Cape Breton, N.S. will build a 10-kilometre multi-use path to get cars off the road, and Vancouver B.C. aims to increase cycling and pedestrian traffic to 11,000 people per day by adding a bicycle lane and conversions to a traffic-heavy bridge.

A waste-to-energy transformation system will be installed in southern Alberta, and more than $170,000 has been approved to help create a sustainable plan to rebuild the downtown core of Lac-Mégantic, Que., half of which was destroyed by an oil train derailment in July 2013. The disaster killed 47 people and took down 30 buildings.

Clark Somerville, FCM, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Clark Somerville, past president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, welcomes federal investment dollars in climate-friendly community projects during an announcement in Ottawa on Fri. June 23, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Municipalities leading climate action

The investment comes on the heels of the 12th annual Metropolis World Congress in Montreal, where mayors from around the world agreed that citizen engagement is essential in creating leaner, greener cities, and spoke about some of their own success in pursuing climate-friendly community projects.

On Thursday, the federal government also announced new grant opportunities for the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program, a five-year, $75-million initiative that funds capital projects aimed specifically at helping communities adapt to climate change impacts like flooding, drought, and extreme temperatures. That program too, is run by FCM.

Asked on Friday how the federal government would intervene if municipalities fail to act on climate change, McKenna responded that municipalities are already demonstrating extraordinary leadership. Those who aren't, she explained, usually have a funding or capacity obstacle.

"What I've seen is actually that cities are stepping up in big ways," she told National Observer. "I would love to see every city do what we're doing as a federal government, which is having a target and modelling how you're going to reduce those emissions...I think that there's more opportunities to support cities in taking concrete action."

U.S. President Donald Trump recently announced his formal intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement by about 200 countries to keep global warming below two degrees this century by reducing emissions. Cities account for roughly 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 50 per cent of the world's population lives in urban areas.

In addition to ratifying the Paris Agreement, Canada has agreed to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That would require a reduction of almost 200 million tonnes of carbon−equivalent emissions in 13 years — about the same as taking every car in Canada off the road twice.

To help meet these goals, the federal government has created a national carbon tax of $10 per tonne — a fee that will rise $10 per year to $50 per tonne by the end of 2022. Provinces have until the end of 2018 to come up with an equivalent plan to price carbon pollution or they will be forced to adopt the federal model.

— with files from The Canadian Press