Can cities take action on climate change?


It’s the one-year anniversary of the hottest day in Victoria’s history. Last year’s heat dome, fires and floods, and the hundreds of lives lost here in BC – we must never forget that. 

Extreme weather events are becoming more common due to climate change. And a consistent majority of Canadians want governments to take more action on climate change. Over the past year, as I’ve met with people across Victoria, a few have asked me an important question: is climate change something that cities can address?

That’s a good question, and it’s important that we ask questions like that.

Last fall at home we were discussing this question, and one of my kids answered with an emphatic and urgent “Yes!”  They’ve heard me talking about my work – including municipal climate action – for years.

The answer is indeed yes – municipalities, and all levels of government in Canada, can take action on climate change. And all levels are doing so, across Canada. (They are not doing enough, as disappointing emissions trends make clear.)

City governments are granted powers by provincial legislation, which determines what cities can and can’t do. BC legislation gives cities a range of decision-making powers that can be used to address climate change. 

And BC governments on both sides of the political spectrum have encouraged cities to take climate action – which they have done. In 2007, the BC government entered into an agreement with local governments to act on climate change. This agreement, the Climate Action Charter, acknowledges the important role of local governments to act on climate change and notes that “Local Governments have taken action on climate change, including planning livable, sustainable communities, encouraging green developments and transit-oriented developments, and implementing innovative infrastructure technologies…” Of 190 local governments in BC, 187 (including Victoria) have signed the Charter.

Under the Charter local governments agree, among other things, to create “complete, compact, more energy efficient rural and urban communities (e.g. foster a built environment that supports a reduction in car dependency and energy use, establish policies and processes that support fast-tracking of green development projects, adopt zoning practices that encourage land use patterns that increase density and reduce sprawl.)”

It goes further – cities’ official community plans are required to address climate change. The Local Government Act states “An official community plan must include targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the area covered by the plan, and policies and actions of the local government proposed with respect to achieving those targets.”

Young people are right to be concerned about climate change – as are parents and grandparents. The climate emergency is real and serious, and we need to take action now. Fortunately, cities can take climate action, and complement the actions taken by other levels of government.

And in Victoria, it’s actually a lot easier to reduce emissions – and less costly – than in a lot of places. We can reduce GHG emissions from our transportation and buildings (together accounting for 90% of local emissions) by using low-carbon BC electricity. 

For more information on that, please see my article in the Capital Daily:  The surprisingly good news for Victoria about the climate emergency.