MC3 2011-2013

The Meeting the Climate Change Challenge (MC3) research project commenced in July 2011 and ended January 31, 2013, funded initially by PICS for one year and extended to a one and a half year project ($140,000). The goals of the project were two-fold; firstly, to identify and investigate innovative municipal approaches to provincial climate policy and document best practices through detailed case studies, and secondly, to spur cross-scaleand peer-to-peer knowledge mobilization between communities in order to bootstrap innovation diffusion, optimizinglocal government and provincial partnerships and lessons from leading communities taking climate action. The dissemination of innovative responses and actions on the ground is critical as other jurisdictions in North America begin to develop active climate policy regimes.

The interdisciplinary research team included eight climate change and sustainability researchers from Royal Roads University, Simon Fraser University and UBC. The trans-disciplinary team included twelve public and private sector partners who were actively engaged in helping to shape the case study selection, broaden and deepen the outreach to different publics and, later on, provided additional funding to increase research outcomes. The team was supported by two research associates, Drs. Sarah Burch and Alison Shaw, and one PICS Fellow student, Freya Kristensen.

Phase 1 of the project involved data collection and comparative analysis of the best practice climate change and sustainable development innovations in eleven case study communities in British Columbia. Phase 2 focused on knowledge mobilization strategies designed for enhancing social learning and, ultimately, for accelerating action on local climate change adaptation and mitigation in communities across BC.

For further details, please click here for the final report submitted to Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS).

Research Highlights

Provincial leadership: The Climate Action Charter was significant in driving climate innovation. In communities already taking action it became a demonstrable tool to use to remind decision makers of their commitments to emissions-reducing activities. In other communities it became a challenge requiring baseline data in the form of corporate inventories and consideration of expenditure options for reducing emissions versus payment of offsets. In the southeastern part of the province, the Charter spurred a large-scale collaborative effort, referred to as the Carbon Neutral Kootenays, among three regional districts, twenty-nine communities and six First Nations.

Local government leadership(official/staff dynamics): The empirical evidence confirms that leadership in local governments, particularly among aligned staff and officials, is a significant driver of climate innovation. In many cases, local government staff demonstrated leadership and then forged ahead to build the case for climate action. In many situations, the Charter was used as a rationale for action. Climate innovation occurred more quickly in the cases where local officials with decision-making authority demonstrated climate leadership. In the cases of Eagle Island and the T’Souke First Nation, community leaders developed climate change constituencies that influenced the development of innovations in those communities.

Quasi-institutional intermediaries: In BC, the role of supporting organizations such as the Fraser Basin Council and the Columbia Basin Trust were lauded as seminal resources of practical knowledge and support and in the case of the latter, financial support that helped to encourage innovation. Similarly, consultancies have played a critical role in establishing baseline inventories and training staff, in many cases, to use provincially developed accounting tools such as the SmartTool.

Policy integration: Integration of climate change goals and targets occurred when the timing of different planning processes aligned, enabling the integration of climate change and sustainability planning into larger planning contexts. For instance, in Campbell River, six planning processes aligned to create a cohesive and integrated role for climate targets in the Sustainable Official Community Plan, the Sustainable Campbell River Framework, the Community Energy and Emissions Plan, Agriculture Now (plan for building a strong agriculture sector in Campbell River, the Master Transportation Plan, and the Foreshore Assessment and Rehabilitation Plan. Another example, the key innovations in Surrey relate to the creation of a District Energy system and the approach to planning (i.e., Development Cost Charges, density bonuses, and integrated energy/neighbourhood planning) that is simultaneously being pursued in order to support it. This represents a cluster of innovations rather than a single tool or strategy, which may provide interesting lessons to other municipalities.

Similarly, in Victoria the official community plan and the Capitol Regional Districts’ sustainability plan were being formulated at the same time as Victoria’s Sustainability Department was formulating its Sustainability Plan. While the underlying institutional processes were not entirely cohesive, this alignment still allowed for the cross-fertilization of sustainability planning that integrated climate change and energy-reducing targets. Important to note is that the province’s ICSP process, initiated from the 2005 Gas Tax Agreement (GTA),enshrines climate change in the legal framework of the OCP locks-in temporal commitments over 20-30 year time horizons.

Framing: The way climate change activities and innovations were framed within the community was an important determinant of support. Those proposals that were called climate change in many, especially rural, communities had an increased likelihood they not receive political support for funding or implementation. However, as the Dawson Creek case shows, if climate change goals are strategically embedded into existing land-use, transportation, etc. planning processes and plans and the framing is aligned with the attitudes or character of the community, there is a far greater chance of support and approval. As a noteworthy example, the ICSP development process in Prince George involved community engagement and the ICSP was personalized through entitling it ‘myPG’. In this manner, the ISCP captured and expressed the larger community’s view of sustainability, and, within this framing, climate change mitigation and adaptation could be included into a plan that has community buy-in.

Cost effectiveness of technology/infrastructure decisions over long-term: Return on investment (ROI) was cited as a significant determinant of the support. In communities in the Kootenays, even with the most ardent climate change deniers on Council, supported and approved retrofits and alternative energy options that were framed as cost-effective options over the long-term were streamlined into other management plans, programs and activities such as transportation or land-use planning. Prince George has employed an Energy Initiatives Supervisor tasked with researching and implementing energy efficient projects throughout the city on the basis of long-term cost-effectiveness, and the city has currently completed approximately 30 lighting and heating upgrade projects and has installed solar heating in the Aquatics Centre.

Centralized versus decentralized sustainability: Designating responsibility to a particular person or department (e.g. sustainability department), allows for aligning internal operations. A risk exists of compartmentalizing the sustainability work when separate sustainability departments or entities exist; however, assigning this work to a specific department or group ensures climate initiatives have local government champions and that the momentum of the work is carried. A mixed model of sustainability being integrated into all city operations and a department or employee leading and monitoring this work is ideal as municipalities explore and implement innovations.

Integrated decision-making on sustainability, adaptation and mitigation: Integration of sustainability with climate action is essential as communities will not reach goals set by climate change policy if their development paths that are unsustainable (or, they will be much more expensive to reach). When engaging in development pathways that are sustainable, many of the actions performed for climate change will have mitigate and adaptive benefits. Similarly, mitigation and adaptation should be considered as part of the same development pathway. Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSP) effectively can incorporate climate action in the broader goal of sustainable development and include climate change in longer-term development planning.