Report: Climate change best fought on local level
TORONTO - Canadians eager to push the government for action on the environment and climate change should stop wasting their time on federal and provincial politicians -- who are delivering little more than "green rhetoric" - and focus on local leaders who have the power to get things done, says a new report obtained by The Canadian Press.
The report, by the environmental organization Sierra Legal, cites Calgary, East Hawkesbury, Ont., Hudson, Que., Montreal, Okotoks, Alta., Richmond, B.C., Toronto, Vancouver, and Whitehorse as examples of municipalities that took the initiative to address concerns about the environment rather than wait for help from federal or provincial officials.
Many of those officials are crassly using the environment as an issue to score points with voters, but local leaders are actually getting to work and getting the job done, said report author Justin Duncan.
"While our federal and provincial leaders are delivering green rhetoric, our municipalities are delivering green solutions," Duncan said. "Municipalities across Canada are actually implementing solutions on a lot of environmental challenges, and they have the ability to react to local needs a lot better."
It's estimated that up to half of the country's greenhouse gas emissions can be controlled or reduced by municipal governments, and Duncan said there are already lots of examples of early initiatives paying dividends.
The report points to the City of Calgary's commitment in 2002 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. After nearly hitting that target just a few years later, the city eventually committed to a 50 per cent reduction by 2012, making it the first major city on the continent to do so.
On a smaller scale, the report highlights the growing town of Okotoks, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called "the greenest community in Canada, maybe the world" for its commitment to limit future sprawl and impacts on the environment. The report praises the town of about 16,500 for committing to limiting its growth after learning its natural resources would be affected once it reaches a population of between 25,000 and 30,000.
The growing desire to act on environmental issues locally led to the Partners for Climate Protection program, which has signed on 145 municipalities from every province and territory - ranging from big-city Toronto to Annapolis Royal, N.S., population 583 -- in the joint goal to reach five targets in reducing greenhouse gases.
Toronto Mayor David Miller attended an international meeting of 30 municipal leaders last week in New York and said there's a growing feeling that it's falling to cities and towns to make the biggest impact in fighting climate change.
"I think cities are the leaders," Miller said in an interview. "We're not waiting for federal and provincial governments to act - they take far too long. We're just acting.
"Federal policies, frankly, need to fall into line with ours."
Massimo Bergamini, a director of policy for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said cities and towns have made good first steps in drafting their own environmental policies, but the problem is taking the next significant step - which will cost money and require further investment.
"Municipal governments are already doing a lot to combat climate change but they can do more, and they can do more if the government of Canada in particular works and takes a lead in developing a national partnership, an intergovernmental partnership in this area," Bergamini said.
"Municipalities in this country are struggling under an outdated fiscal system that has led to a $60-billion-plus infrastructure deficit, which means that they're struggling to deal with the bare bones of their operations, and it pushes a number of very important things to the side. And certain environmental measures might be some of those that get pushed out."
Most municipalities are already equipped with the decision-making powers to enact environmental policies, but the report calls on New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec to join the rest of the country in empowering cities and towns to draft their own bylaws on green issues.
Duncan also hopes the report will make more municipalities aware of what can done locally and give them some ideas on how to act.
"I think a lot (of municipalities) don't know the full extent of the powers they have under municipal legislation and ... some of the interesting initiatives that are actually being undertaken in Canada," he said.