Amid the dire warnings about global warming’s impacts, what’s often overlooked is that actions to reduce or prevent them will lead to livable communities, improved air quality, protection of natural spaces and greater economic efficiency, to name just a few benefits. So it’s not surprising that tangible positive action on climate change is happening in Canada’s cities.
Plenty of examples can be found in the National Measures Report, released in mid-July by the Partners for Climate Protection, which includes the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI-Canada, a local government organization dedicated to sustainability.
The report shows that, although Calgary is best known as the epicentre of Canada’s oil and gas sector, its government is investing in greater energy efficiency and tackling greenhouse gas pollution. In just seven years, it has cut emissions from operations by almost 50 percent through an innovative partnership with energy companies. Cost savings from reduced energy use pay for the city’s investments.
Edmonton was an early innovator in waste management, establishing one of the first municipal composting programs in 2000. Its facility is the largest of its kind in North America. Not only does it take in organic waste from households, it also processes sewage sludge from the wastewater treatment plant. Along with its recycling program, the city now keeps up to 60 percent of its municipal waste out of landfills, and is aiming to increase that to 90 percent. How does this help with climate change? Diverting waste away from landfills reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In Ontario, Guelph is enjoying an economic revival and reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Supported by Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the city aims to meet 25 percent of its total energy needs with locally sourced renewable energy. The policy turned out to be a boon for the manufacturing sector, attracting solar industry plants to Guelph and across the region.
My hometown, Vancouver, is the real leader on Canadian urban climate initiatives. It has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major North American city—and they’re continuing to drop. B.C is lucky to be powered by low-carbon hydroelectric power; Vancouver leverages this advantage by making smart urban-planning decisions and encouraging active transportation such as walking, biking and public transit. Almost half of city trips are now made without a car. Battling sprawl and encouraging sustainable transportation has its advantages beyond reducing the carbon footprint. Good transit and improved liveability have attracted people to Vancouver’s increasingly vibrant downtown core, lush green spaces and seaside pathways.
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