Our complementary indicators examine which municipalities have key foundational policies in place for strong climate and
sustainability action. These policies are likely to positively influence a municipality’s performance across almost all of the primary indicators.
No city can systematically and drastically reduce its GHG emissions without a climate plan, which takes a city’s emissions targets and identifies specific pathways for how those targets will be achieved.
Developing a climate plan can take up to a year or more. For example, Orillia’s council approved funding for the creation of a climate plan in the 2021 budget. City staff worked with an external consulting team and a committee of community stakeholders. They collected baseline emissions data and conducted scenario modelling to identify the best evidence-based approaches to meet Orillia’s emissions targets. Residents were invited to give feedback on the plan through an open house and a community survey. The final plan, approved in April of 2022, includes sections on local renewable energy, buildings, and transportation.1 While most large and medium-sized municipalities across Canada now have a climate plan, not all climate plans are created equal. A strong plan should present detailed policies, with timelines attached, and identify which departments are responsible for which pieces.2 It also needs to receive adequate funding and staffing. To ensure accountability to the plan, the city should produce regular public progress reports (as Halifax, Ottawa, and Edmonton do) that identify what progress has been made, and where more resources might be needed.
While climate plans focus on reducing emissions, a city’s adaptation plan guides how it will respond to climate impacts. Adaptation plans are usually based on climate science projections and a vulnerability and risk assessment.
“Climate Resilient Edmonton: Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan” is a good example of a municipal adaptation plan.3 It includes measures to protect residents from extreme temperatures, prepare for droughts, flooding and severe weather events, and ensure the food system and local infrastructure are resilient. Orillia, Edmonton, and Fredericton all indicated that they benefited from the Building Adaptive and Resilient Communities program offered by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability Canada, which offers best practices in adaptation planning. The federal government is also taking leadership through the new National Adaptation Strategy unveiled at the end of 2022, which will provide additional funding for municipalities to implement adaptation projects.4 Besides Edmonton, relatively few cities in Canada have developed an adaptation plan thus far. Some might include adaptation measures within the climate plan (like Halifax), while others may have various measures related to adaptation in place, but not organized under an overarching strategy. Municipalities should be focusing on this as the effects of climate change will only become more serious.
GHG Inventory Frequency and Methodology:
A greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory tracks how many tonnes of GHG emissions a city produces in a year, breaking them down both by sector and by kind (carbon dioxide, methane, etc.).
Cities might conduct “corporate” GHG inventories that only measure emissions produced by city- owned assets (municipal buildings, fleet vehicles, and more), or a community emissions inventory, which measures all emissions produced within the municipality.5 A baseline GHG inventory is a necessary starting point for developing a climate action plan, and is one of the steps of the Partners for Climate Protection program (included in our primary indicators). Cities should also conduct regular (ideally annual) inventories to measure whether they are on track to meeting their reduction targets. Of the cities we have data for, Halifax and Edmonton indicated they conduct annual inventories, while Winnipeg’s last inventory was in 2011. We also track whether municipalities use the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Inventories (GPC), which follows IPCC guidelines and is the internationally recognized standard. Protocols like the GPC provide a standard methodology for how emissions should be counted that allows for accurate comparison between cities.
Carbon budgeting is another policy tool that can help a city meet its climate commitments. A carbon budget can complement a net-zero target, by quantifying how many tonnes of emissions a city has left to “spend” before 2050.
For example, Halifax calculated its carbon budget between now and 2050 is 37 megatonnes of CO2eq. Compared to a percentage-based target, a carbon budget approach encourages municipalities to pay attention to their cumulative emissions and reduce at a faster pace, which is crucial for keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees.6 Of all Canadian municipalities, Edmonton is the furthest along in developing and applying a carbon budget. In order to operationalize its carbon budget, the city is weaving it into its financial budget, by tracking the carbon “costs” of each budget item. For example, the budget quantifies the emissions associated with its investments in roads, as well as the emissions reductions associated with its investments in transit.7 When tied to the financial budget, carbon budgets can bring a “whole of government” approach to reducing emissions. Ottawa and Winnipeg include piloting carbon budgets in their climate plans but have not yet developed them.
Energy efficiency standards for new buildings are defined by building codes.
The federal government sets the National Building Code, which is then adopted by the provinces. Municipalities must follow federal and provincial building codes, but in some provinces, municipalities have the option to develop or adopt even higher efficiency standards, which is what this indicator measures. The province of Manitoba, however, prohibits municipalities from doing so, which is why the city of Winnipeg scores a “no” on this indicator.8 Other municipalities we looked at do have a higher efficiency building standard, but only for municipal- owned buildings (Edmonton and Halifax). The province of BC’s Energy Step Code, on the other hand, provides a tiered set of optional higher efficiency standards for municipalities, starting with the provincial building code as a baseline and increasing to “net zero ready.” Developed in partnership between industry, the provincial government, and municipalities, the BC Energy Step Code provides a simple and consistent approach for municipalities looking to reduce emissions by setting high efficiency standards for buildings, while also allowing local governments flexibility and autonomy. The City of Ottawa recently passed its own High Performance Development Standard. Ottawa also worked with Clean Air Partnership and other municipalities to develop the Green Standards toolkit, which can be used by other municipalities.9
A climate test is a method of creating climate accountability and interweaving climate into all decisions and investments.
A climate test means calculating the GHG impact of a proposed project or expenditure, while a climate lens refers to taking climate impacts into account in decision-making. Edmonton, Ottawa, and Winnipeg all discuss implementing climate tests, but it is unclear whether this has been done yet in any of these cities. Ottawa’s climate plan includes recommendations to apply a “climate lens” to the Official Plan and to asset management and capital projects.10 A “climate lens” is also required by several Infrastructure Canada funding programs.11 This includes a GHG mitigation assessment (a climate test) and a resilience assessment (assessing the vulnerability of the project to climate impacts). In order to receive funding for projects, proponents may have to complete one or both. Halifax indicated that while they do not apply a climate test systematically, they have conducted these assessments as part of applying for Infrastructure Canada funding.
Divestment means removing investments (often pension funds) in the fossil fuel industry and directing them elsewhere.
Divesting is not only an ethical choice, but also financially savvy—as the world transitions to renewable and clean energy, investments in fossil fuels could become stranded assets, or in other words, worthless.12 Institutions of all kinds can divest—for example, twelve Canadian universities have divested so far. But Canadian municipalities are lagging behind, with none of the cities we surveyed this year having divestment commitments. Of all Canadian cities, only Vancouver has passed a motion to develop a plan for divestment (in 2019).13 It has also signed on to a C40 declaration on divestment along with eleven other major international cities including Berlin, London, and New York City.14 To support municipal divestment, C40 offers a toolkit that offers a step-by-step guide, starting with a mayoral commitment, to engaging with pension fund managers, to developing responsible investment policy.15 By removing any financial stake in the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels, divestment is an important step for cities to show they are truly committed to climate action.
Though most issues relating to the food system fall within provincial or federal jurisdiction, city councils nonetheless have tools to encourage the sustainable production and consumption of food in their municipality. One of them is creating a food council.
A municipal food council is a citizen committee that is responsible for advising on matters relating to food systems policy, which includes not just sustainable food, but also food security and nutrition, which all intersect. A food council provides a structure for ensuring municipal food issues are being discussed and policy solutions developed, as well as an opportunity for leadership from citizen stakeholders. Some cities or regions may have food councils that are structured as independent non-profits instead of citizen committees. This is the case for Kelowna,16 Orillia,17 Ottawa,18 and Halifax.19 In these cases, the food council may still work closely with the municipality, as the Halifax Food Policy Alliance did with the Halifax Regional Municipality to produce a food action plan for the Halifax Region.
4. Municipal World, “FCM welcomes National Adaptation Strategy, supports investments in municipal resiliency.” Accessed December 2022.
6. Clean Air Partnership, “Municipal Carbon Budgeting.” August 2021. Accessed December 2022.
7. CBC News, “Edmonton has its 1st carbon budget. It’s expected to blow it.” November 5, 2022. Accessed December 2022.
17. Orillia Food Council. Accessed December 2022.