Day 1 at the IPCC Cities & Climate Change Science Conference

The day started with the sun beaming in through a wall of glass looking out over Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The discourse on cities was hopeful- tinged with periods of critical thought and realism. Presenters, including the Mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson, talked about the need to track consumption-based GHG emissions; but the mechanisms that cities require to influence consumption of their citizens are both politically and legally limited. Many speakers talked about green jobs and low-carbon cities as engines of economic growth and development, while others reflected that economic development itself is the source of GHG emissions. Irrespective of the pathway forward, there is no question that the role of local governments and cities is gaining prominence and an increasing focus of UN agencies and other entities in the world; if cities can’t dramatically bend the curve, then there is no way that the world will achieve the necessary reductions of 1.5 degrees. Mayor Iveson emphasised this point with a story about UNFCCC COP 13 in indonesia; as a deputy mayor his option was to represent a non-profit organisation at a side event of a side event. Luckily, times have changed: urban areas are now a primary focus with an IPCC focussed conference on cities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a much anticipated report on what it will take for the world to stay within 1.5 degrees later this year; this report include a chapter on the role of cities. This 1.5 degree report is expected to the basis of extensive discussion at the next COP later this year, in Poland. In 2024, the IPCC will also  prepare a special report specifically on cities.

One of the most remarkable speeches was from Aromar Revi of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) and a lead author of the urban areas chapter of the upcoming IPCC report. He highlighted coal plants as stranded assets but said that the most signficant stranded assets are our cities, noting that economic activity, people’s homes, cultural centres in many great cities are at risk from sea level rise.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement (UNFCCC COP 21/CMP 11), countries identified Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), which were promised emissions reductions, in the lead up to the conference. Three years after those commitments were agreed upon in Paris, we’re about 1 degree above the 1850-1900 mean, which is two thirds of the way to the 1.5C level and halfway to the 2 degree level. The current INDCs are the fast elevator to 2 degrees; the question now are: could we experience an overshoot, how big will that overshoot be and how long will it last? If we had started GHG emissions reductions seriously in Rio de Janeiro (in 2012), we may have had the gift of choice but now societies need to accelerate the transformation of our energy systems, land-use, cities and regions, governance and financing.

Ultimately though, Aromar points out, the transition is a question of behavioural and cultural change. And if this transformation occurs, the empire, he indicated, will strike back as this is the nature of the systems. In this case, Aromar drew on the example of Gandhi taking on the greatest empire of the world at the time as a source of hope and inspiration; he concluded that ultimately the objective is to transform not only the system but ourselves.

In discussing future climate impacts, a presenter pointed out that the climate of the prairie provinces will resemble that of Texas by 2050; imagine what Texas will look like. The impacts are Increased precipitation early in the growing season and then longer, hotter dryer growing season, creating a need for some form of water storage. The researcher has developed and costed a natural infrastructure system that will provide water storage and protect the City of Winnipeg from flooding. In 2011, the City of Winnipeg experienced a major 1 in a 300 year flood. To protect the City, berms were broken to allow water to spread onto farmland, which both failed to protect the city and caused a nearly $1 billion loss in agricultural activity. A subsequent drought resulted in a further $1 billion in crop losses. No existing civil infrastructure mechanism could both prevent the floods and store water from that “rainy season”. The proposed natural infrastructure system not only solves these problems but also provides a spider web of ancillary benefits. In order to implement this system, a new form of agency will be required to raise the $5 billion required for implementation and generate returns from the different forms of benefits delivered.

Toronto City Council Unanimously Adopts TransformTO

View the TransformTO report.

Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) is pleased to announce that our latest report, TransformTO: Climate Action for a Healthy, Equitable, Prosperous Toronto (Results of Modelling Greenhouse Gas Emissions to 2050), was adopted, unanimously, by Toronto City Council today.

TransformTO is a community-wide, cross-corporate initiative of the City of Toronto and The Toronto Atmospheric Fund. It was designed to engage residents, other stakeholders, experts, and all City operations in identifying ways to reduce Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 30 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050, against 1990 levels.

SSG and whatIf? Technologies worked with city staff, stakeholders and community members to develop a pathway to achieve 80% emissions reductions by 2050 using currently available technologies. The process involved the development of future scenarios, spatial modelling, analysis of co-benefits and co-harms for the scenarios as well as community input. Opportunities for collaborative and sustained emissions reduction efforts by the City of Toronto, the private sector, higher levels of government, and Toronto residents are included in the report.

“This project clearly demonstrates that a low carbon future for Toronto is viable using current technologies,” said SSG Director and project lead Yuill Herbert. “We also determined that such a future has many benefits to public health, stimulating local economic development and employment opportunities, and addressing poverty, if actions are thoughtfully executed.”

SSG’s and whatIf? Technologies’ CityInSight energy, emissions and finance model was key to the analysis. CityInSight incorporates the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC), a standard that enables emissions comparability between cities globally. The model creates and compares land-use scenarios that assess varying considerations for transportation, building types and densities, energy use, energy production systems, liquid and solid waste production and treatments, infrastructure, and all associated costs and paybacks, in order to assess what emissions reduction actions are possible and what should be prioritized.

Two scenarios were defined for the project: Business as Planned (BAP) and Low Carbon Scenario (LCS). The BAP scenario explored projected energy and emissions levels for the city under current and planned policies and actions by municipal, provincial and federal governments. The LCS explored additional actions options that, if taken, will achieve Toronto’s emissions reduction targets.

Council’s adoption of the TransformTO report signals the ambition of Canada’s largest city in taking the lead on climate change mitigation through critical emissions reduction actions – actions that will also improve the quality of life of Toronto’s residents. 

For more information on TransformTO, and to download the full report, please visit:
SSG Contacts

Yuill Herbert

TransformTO Project Lead            

Naomi Devine

SSG Communications Director



Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) is a climate change and sustainable communities consultancy with offices across Canada. We’re a cooperative of critical, creative thinkers who collaborate with cities, communities, and institutions to address some of society’s most pressing challenges: climate change, energy and emissions planning, sustainable development, public health, and democratic engagement. Over the past fifteen years we have worked with over 40 municipalities in Canada to help them build and plan for low-carbon, economically vibrant, and sustainable communities.

whatIf? Technologies was founded in 1989 by Robert Hoffman and Bert McInnis – to build upon their pioneering work in socio-economic modelling and simulation at Statistics Canada – and by software architect Michael Hoffman (current CEO). Over the last 25 years the firm has established itself as a leader in developing computer-based simulation models for strategic planning and scenario analysis. whatIf has successfully delivered modelling projects in urban and regional planning, energy systems, transportation, and long-term physical economic systems.

False Creek at night. Photo by Naomi Devine

Join SSG at Renewable Cities. We’re throwing an afterparty you won’t want to miss!

SSG is pleased to support Renewable Cities, a global program of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver, Canada. We are participating in their Global Learning Forum 2017: a solutions-focused dialogue on the transition to 100% renewable energy in cities. Leaders from local governments, the private sector, utilities, and the NGO and research communities will be in attendance and we look forward to connecting with everyone.

In celebration of our recent report, TransformTO: Climate Action for a Healthy, Equitable & Prosperous Toronto – The Pathway to a Low Carbon Future, we are throwing an afterparty for all attendees of Renewable Cities. Join us for a social evening to connect, engage, and share your stories about how we are working to make cities renewable, one step at a time.

SSG members Jeremy Murphy, Julia Meyer-MacLeod, and Naomi Devine will be attending Renewable Cities. Be sure to connect with us and say hello at the event or at our afterparty.

Afterparty Details

Thursday, May 18, starting at 6:30 pm

The Belmont Bar, Vancouver BC
1006 Granville St

Aerial view of city

Sustainability, Social Value and Wellbeing in Buildings

Kelly Watson is a Research Associate at the University of Manchester. She recently submitted her PhD thesis that investigated how to measure and disseminate the social value of buildings, using methodologies from the social impact sector. Her current post-doc research has developed a wellbeing valuation approach for the built environment, to promote understanding of the impact of design on the people that use it.

The Seawall in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC

We’ve created a new model to help change the way cities plan for sustainability. Meet Places+Spaces.

SSG partnered with Royal Roads University and whatIf? Technologies on a three year project to create Places+Spaces, a new model to assist local government decision-makers in accurately assessing multiple policy options for sustainable community development. The “engine” of this tool is an integrated systems simulation model of the community incorporating community-specific data and reflecting community-specific policies and scenarios. (The “engine” works by tracing complex relationships between policy options – investment choices and impacts – and impacts – built environment, resource consumption, and financial viability).

This ambitious project was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund. Places+Spaces is the first model of its kind in Canada and was tested in three cities: Tofino, Moncton, and Colwood.

“Communities are faced with a gamut of wicked problems,” says Professor Ann Dale of Royal Roads University who led the project. “We needed a wicked solution to support more sustainable community decision-making and that’s where systems dynamic modelling like Places+Spaces comes in. This approach allows us to quantify relationships that are too complex to understand using mere intuition.”

One of the largest issues facing local government decision-makers when it comes to implementing strategies for sustainable development is the potential complexity of the strategies proposed, which makes evaluation and comparison of pathways difficult. Cities are no longer seen as just ‘pipes and roads’ – citizens are calling for their backyards to be developed with sustainability in mind – and planning is moving toward discussion of ‘ideas and systems’.

The beta version of Places+Spaces has been released as an open source tool and is available as a free resource for use by all regional and municipal staff and elected leaders.

“Right now the tool is in the realm of dedicated users and we hope that over time by releasing it as open source, we anticipate developing version 2.0 which will be more user friendly,” says Dale. Development of the next version will be led by a new private/public sector partnership between SSG and whatif? Technologies.

Read more about the development of Places+Spaces in the RRU News Release here.

Check out Places+Spaces for yourself here.