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.

SSG at IPCC Cities & Climate Change Conference

SSG directors, Yuill Herbert, and Jeremy Murphy, will be in Edmonton at the IPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference: Fostering new scientific knowledge for cities based on science, practice and policy, this March 5-7th. Sustainability Solutions Group is proud to be a silver sponsor of this conference.

This conference is an important one for the international climate research community. It will bring together representatives from national, local (city) and regional governments, academia, international research organizations, as well as urban planning and climate change practitioners.

The goals of the conference are to:

  • identify research and knowledge gaps related to cities and climate change;
  • inspire regional and global research that will lead to peer-reviewed publications and scientific reports; and,
  • stimulate research on cities and climate change throughout the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report (AR6) cycle.

The conference’s outcomes are important because they will inform upcoming IPCC reports as well as support cities and citizens in building low-carbon, climate-resilient and sustainable cities, the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the New Urban Agenda, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

If you can’t make it to Edmonton yourself, you can join the live webcast here and get informed by reading the pre-session documents, available here.

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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.

SSG February Newswire

Our monthly newsletter on news and inspiration at the nexus of sustainability

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FCM Guidebook for Brownfield Strategies makes top 5 resource for municipalities

The Brownfields Strategy Guidebook has been selected by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as one of their top five resources for municipalities in 2016. The guidebook is to inspire municipalities with plans to revive abandoned and contaminated spaces in their communities, with sustainability at it’s heart. These resources are designed to help municipalities learn and share from one another. Read more here.

Can you plan for good healthy communities?

SSG assembled a set of land use scenarios and their potential health outcomes as part of the District of Squamish’s Learning Lab – Exploring Health Tools for OCP Review Project. The purpose was to explore the potential impacts of different land use decisions on community health in the District using SSG’s new ModelHealth tool. Read more

FCM Guidebook for Brownfield Strategies makes top 5 resource for municipalities

The Brownfields Strategy Guidebook has been selected by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as one of their top five resources for municipalities in 2016.
SSG contributed to the Guidebook which provides guidance on how to design and implement an effective brownfield strategy. It is part of a series of guidebooks produced for the Green Municipal Fund’s Leadership program (LiBRe), which is structured around a best practices framework for becoming a municipal leader in brownfield renewal. The program supports participants’ progress through seven key steps to becoming a brownfield champion municipality. This guidebook provides an outline of different types of brownfield strategies and what they typically include, outlines best practices for successful brownfield strategy development, and offers guidance on selecting the right brownfield incentives for your municipality.
To read more and download the guide, visit the FCM website.

CityInSight: a preview of our new energy, emissions and finance model

SSG and whatIf? technologies gave a preview of the new energy, GHG and finance model, CityInSight that will be officially launched at COP21 in Paris on 2nd December.
SSG has partnered with whatIf? Technologies, an international leader in simulation modelling, to increase the sophistication, scope and capabilities of GHGProof in a new model – CityInSight. CityInSight also incorporates the Global GHG Protocol for Cities, a GHG accounting framework launched as the new global standard by the World Resources Institute, ICLEI, C40, UN Habitat and others at the UN Conference of the Parties in Lima in 2014.

Here is the recording of the session and more details about and application of the model in our pilot City Moncton, will be published soon!

There will be another round of this webinar in January, so do attend if you have questions.