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Opinion: Municipalities must take leadership on climate

The urgency of the situation calls for exceptional measures
November 26, 2021

By Ursula Eicker  •  Originally published by the Montreal Gazette, Nov 04, 2021   

Coincidentally, the Climate Change Conference (COP 26), seen by many as the last chance meeting, is taking place in the same week as the Quebec municipal elections. If current policies continue, projections point to a global temperature increase of 2.7 to 3.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. Such a scenario could trigger a chain reaction in natural systems with dramatic and highly unpredictable consequences. In this regard, municipalities and local communities are at the forefront of both the fight against climate change and the race against time to adapt to the consequences of this crisis.

We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions now and simultaneously increase the resilience of our built, ecological and social systems. These aspects are interrelated: for example, making our building stock more energy efficient through renovations makes electricity available for transportation and building heating systems conversion, and rethinking land use and residential densities reduces automobile use and protects agricultural land and ecosystems.

The urgency of the situation calls for exceptional measures. The usual development processes that engage the public, private and community sectors, in isolation or in concert, are too slow and severely lacking in coherence.

In our academic context, the Next-Generation Cities Institute was founded at Concordia University, providing us with a framework to pose problems and articulate responses outside the usual academic modes of operation. The institute aims to facilitate collaboration between researchers and educators from a wide range of backgrounds in order to develop integrated and transdisciplinary approaches. 

At the heart of our approach is the desire to collaborate at all stages with local communities and stakeholders, who are the primary “clients,” users or beneficiaries of the fruits of our efforts. This innovative approach aims for greater efficiency and speed of action to develop and deploy knowledge, technologies and practices that respond to the climate emergency with a view to inter- and intra-generational equity and social inclusion.

The nature of the problems and the urgency of dealing with them collectively call for such cross-cutting and concerted approaches. Even the best technologies, or public policies, on paper can be useless if they do not reach their recipients. It is pointless, for example, to build carbon-neutral homes at great expense if their inhabitants depend on the automobile for their travel, or to deploy public transportation networks without countering urban sprawl. We must aim to maximize the “return on our public, private and community investments” based on environmental, social, economic and cultural criteria.

Collective mobilization is only possible if a principle of equity prevails with respect to the efforts to be made and the anticipated positive spin-offs. Quebec has a long tradition of collective mobilization and co-operation at the local, regional and national levels. This practice extends from neighbourhood and sectoral round tables to the conduct of Estates General.

We call on future elected municipal officials to exercise their leadership as soon as they are elected, and to use this model, which they know well, to mobilize their community to fight and adapt to climate change. In general, municipalities are already well aware of the environmental impacts associated with their development practices and lifestyles and the threats to their populations, ecosystems and infrastructure. But here, as elsewhere, progress is being made in a piecemeal fashion and far too slowly. 

We therefore encourage municipalities and local communities to establish local climate change tables to identify local issues and to bring together citizens and organizations of goodwill to define priorities and an action plan. Governments should facilitate these exercises by devoting substantial resources and by promoting the dissemination and transfer of knowledge and know-how including from teaching and research institutions.

We look forward to sharing our expertise and mobilizing our students in research and teaching activities as a way of demonstrating good citizenship. We strongly encourage local communities to turn to the resources available in the CEGEP and university networks. We are confident that our peers and their students share our commitment to action.

Ursula Eicker is the co-director and founder of Concordia University’s Next-Generation Cities Institute. This commentary is co-authored by fellow institute researchers Carmela Cucuzzella, Pierre Gauthier, Govind Gopakumar,  Meghan Joy, Janis Timm-Bottos, Chun Wang and Erkan Yonder.

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