Where Are We Now?
How do Local Governments fit within the big picture?
What authority do they have over various actions?
When Canada signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, we joined a global commitment to keep global warming below 2°C, and as close to 1.5°C as possible. In October 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report that emphasized the dramatic difference in consequences between a 1.5°C and 2°C world. Every degree of warming beyond this threshold will lead to increased impacts of extreme weather, more wildfires and floods, increases in sea-level rise, and severe threats to human health and well-being.
By limiting these impacts, we can ensure a healthy environment, economy and society for ourselves and future generations. While it is not too late, time is of the essence.
The key finding of the IPCC report is that limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible, but requires deep emissions reductions across all areas of society – reducing global emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
In 2016, the Government of Canada released its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The framework sets out the federal government’s strategy to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. In 2017, the most recent emissions inventory year, Canada’s emissions were 716 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2e), which is a 2% decrease from 2005 levels. This means that in order for Canada to meet its emissions reduction target, we need a decrease of 28% from 2005 levels in just ten years.
Actions available to the federal government include vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, model national building codes, energy ratings, and carbon pricing.
In December 2018, the Province of British Columbia released its CleanBC climate plan. The plan reaffirmed the province’s previous target to reduce emissions 80 per cent below 2007 levels by the year 2050, and established a new interim target to reduce emissions 40 per cent by 2030. In 2017, BC’s provincial emissions were 0.5% below 2007 levels, which means that in order for BC to meet its emissions reduction target, we need a decrease of 40% from 2007 levels in just ten years.
CleanBC outlines a path to meeting the 2030 targets, outlining a range of actions to meet 75% of the target. These actions include sourcing clean and renewable electricity, incremental increases in building-energy performance in the BC Building Code, tailpipe emissions standards, and measures to reduce emissions from industry. The Province is currently identifying the actions to achieve the remaining 25% of emissions reductions.
CleanBC builds on a history of provincial climate action: The provincial government has enacted laws and regulations to reduce emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy. These include the Climate Change Accountability Act, Carbon Tax Act, Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act, and Clean Energy Act.
More than 120 British Columbia local governments have to date enacted community climate action plans or community energy and emissions plans (CEEPs), which outline actions they can take, or are taking, to reduce carbon pollution. Local governments have varying degrees of influence over different sources of emissions within their boundaries, as shown below.
If local governments are to succeed, they will need leadership and/or support from other orders of government, as well as commitments from residents and businesses.
Communities and regional districts play an important role in climate mitigation and adaptation. Almost every British Columbia local government has committed to some degree of action under the B.C. Climate Action Charter.
The B.C. Climate Action Charter is a voluntary agreement between the Province of British Columbia, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and individual local-government signatories, which commit to:
- Carbon neutrality in corporate operations;
- Measure and report their community’s greenhouse gas emissions; and
- Create complete, compact, and more energy-efficient communities.
Across Canada, local and regional governments influence approximately 60 per cent of the nation’s overall energy use and 50 per cent of its GHG emissions. They can use the tools at their disposal to enable their residents and businesses to rapidly cut emissions, making the green choice the easy choice.
A New Era for Local Government Climate Action
In response to the 2018 IPCC report, the increasingly acute climate impacts felt in British Columbia communities, and an ongoing youth-led public mobilization, a growing number of Canadian jurisdictions are committing to more ambitious climate action. To date, more than 30 British Columbia local governments have declared a local climate emergency or crisis. For the first time, we are witnessing widespread momentum to aggressively address carbon at the local-government level across British Columbia.
And there are many good reasons to do so. In acting on emissions and embracing a low carbon future, local governments capture benefits that extend well beyond the climate. These include creating healthier and more liveable communities for people of all ages and abilities, and leveraging external funding sources to drive local job growth and economic development.