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Comment: Our municipalities need not reinvent the wheel on climate solutions

A commentary by a former deputy minister in the provincial government, and a former commissioner of the B.C. Commission on Resources andEnvironment.
The sun over downtown Victoria is obscured by smoke, originating from wildfires in the Interior. Greater Victoria municipalities can exercise regulatory and tax authority over a range of huge emission sources such as buildings, transportation and waste management, Stuart Culbertson writes. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

There is neither time nor a need for our municipalities to reinvent the wheel in a world of ideas to confront the climate emergency.

“How can great ideas that are happening somewhere, happen everywhere — and happen here?” This provocative question was posed by former Toronto mayor David Miller at the recent Rising Economy 2022 conference, hosted by the South Island Prosperity Partnership.

Miller is now the managing director of C40, a global network of nearly 100 cities that have committed to urgent action to confront the climate crisis and create a future in which everyone can thrive.

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings. These cities account for more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, global warming is wreaking havoc on municipal infrastructure and driving up costs as cities try to respond to increasing extreme weather events such as floods and sustained, soaring temperatures. And all these trends are accelerating — very quickly.

Working within their respective scopes of responsibility, cities can exercise regulatory and tax authority over a range of huge emission sources such as buildings, transportation and waste management.

Clearly, municipalities have a vital role and interest in addressing climate change. But it’s not going to be solved one blue box at a time.

While local governments around the world operate within different regulatory frameworks, there is much common ground that can facilitate the transfer of good ideas for adaptation elsewhere.

For example, C40 is promoting the establishment of clear climate action plans for cities to adopt, to meet common targets of a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and “net zero” emissions by 2050.

Then, borrowing from established processes used to determine and allocate financial budgets to city departments, some municipalities are establishing carbon budgets that are allocated and managed in a similar fashion.

As cities move toward their emission targets, carbon budgets are reduced accordingly in a transparent, measurable manner. Municipal leaders in this space, such as Oslo, Norway, have developed this model to the point that it can be widely shared, scaled and adopted by others.

The role of city governments goes well beyond climate planning and carbon budgets. It extends much more broadly, through what Miller calls the “amazing convening powers” that mayors can exercise in bringing together a wide range of parties to advance climate solutions.

These are powers of the “bully pulpit,” where municipal leaders can exercise influence well beyond their statutory authority. Mayors from Los Angeles to London, Shanghai to Stockholm, are rising to the occasion.

As Mary Rowe of the Canadian Urban Institute told the conference, there are many points of light that can illuminate shareable, scalable solutions among a diverse web of cities.

Experiences and lessons learned in dealing with climate disasters, such as floods and fires, can be broadly shared to help others in future contingency planning.

Rowe noted that the present municipal composition of the South Island offers an interesting opportunity for collaboration.

For example, one or two of our 13 municipalities could undertake to build a model or try out a climate solution that, if successful, could be ported up and scaled out for regional deployment, either in individual municipalities or collectively.

In this respect, our presently unamalgamated region may not be a liability, but a laboratory for solution building.

There are many compelling reasons to embrace collaborative initiatives and great ideas happening elsewhere in the world and apply them here.

While Vancouver is a member of the C40 group, there is no representation from any — or collectively, from all — of our southern Vancouver Island municipalities.

Our regional municipalities must be encouraged to embrace, pilot and experiment with ideas that have been developed elsewhere and adapt them to deploy here.

The climate emergency allows no time to waste in reinventing the wheel. More active participation in solution-sharing networks can mean there is no need to reinvent the wheel either.

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