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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1000 Cities Launches at Carnegie Hall in NYC!

The latest Pathway to Paris concert took place at Carnegie Hall in New York City at the beginning of November. The concert included performances from: Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Joan Baez, Flea, Talib Kweli, Cat Power, Tanya Tagaq, Tenzin Choegyal, Rebecca Foon, Jesse Paris Smith and featured activists Dr. Vandana Shiva and Bill McKibben.

At the concert, the 1000 Cities initiative was launched. The 1000 Cities initiative is a bold mission to meet and go beyond the targets of the Paris Agreement. The initiative invites all cities of the world to transition off of fossil fuels and move to 100% renewable energy by 2040, in order to turn the Paris Agreement into reality. This plan involves citizen engagement, supporting cities with the development of their ambitious climate action plans, and a creative implementation process in collaboration with a diversity of partners to develop one thousand 100% renewable cities by 2040, no longer dependent on fossil fuels.

SSG is a proud partner in Pathway to Paris, a collection of artists, activists, academics, musicians, politicians, innovators coming together to fight for climate justice. Co-founded by Jesse Paris Smith and SSG Director Rebecca Foon, Pathway to Paris includes a series of musical events in various cities, radio shows, and cutting-edge news, drawing upon proven examples to demonstrate that significant reductions in GHG emissions are possible and improve quality of life.

The Good in 2016 Review: The Year in Climate Change

2016 saw many urban-related climate action developments. This January, we’re taking a look at the good, the not so good, and what may be in store for 2017.

The Paris Agreement came into effect

At the end of 2015, nations at the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) adopted The Paris Agreement, the outcome of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To come into legal force, the agreement had to be ratified (signed into legal force by each country’s government) by at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions. The agreement has now been signed by 194 countries and ratified by 118, covering 80% of global emissions.

One of the key objectives of the Agreement is to limit global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, which would avoid the worst of projected climate change impacts.

For cities, ratification of the The Paris Agreement means there should be increased national climate change initiatives, as well as support for municipal corporate and community emissions reductions and renewable energy projects.

Further reading

Interested in tracking the Paris Agreement?

Analysis of the Paris Agreement

The City of Toronto made major climate action moves

Toronto has adopted the ambitious and exciting goal of reducing emissions 80% below 1990 levels (or 17,600,000 tonnes per year) by 2050. The TransformTO project was undertaken to achieve this goal. It is a collaborative project co-led by the City of Toronto’s Environment and Energy Division and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. TransformTO is informed by community engagements and robust technical scenario modelling, aiming to understand what the most emissions, energy and cost-effective carbon reduction strategies are for the city. The results will generate a long-term climate strategy that updates Toronto’s existing Climate Action Plan.

SSG is leading the high profile energy and emissions quantification project for TransformTO. The modelling aspects of the project include developing an action plan for reaching the City’s 2020 GHG reduction target, and a decision-support framework focused on achieving Toronto’s reduction target, which aligns with the Province’s reduction of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Phase 1 involved developing a GHG emissions baseline and Build-As-Planned (BAP) scenario to quantify the emissions reductions potentials of Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions to the year 2050. The inventory and projection is undertaken according to the Global Protocol for Cities (GPC) using CityInSight, a spatially explicit energy, emissions and finance model developed by SSG and whatIf? Technologies. This process involved significant efforts in collecting, organizing, and interpreting data from public and private entities, including spatial geographical information (GIS) and Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) data. A major analysis of City, Regional and Provincial policy was undertaken to develop assumptions and model a BAP scenario.

Phase 2, currently underway, involves modelling the GHG emissions reduction potential of implementing a host of low carbon actions to meet the City’s target, and an analysis of the co-benefits and co-harms of these actions. A key focus has been evaluating the implications of land-use policy for key GHG emissions drivers such as transportation and buildings, and the opportunities associated with interventions such as transit and district energy.

Further reading:

Most of Canada adopted a Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

The Prime Minister and First Ministers of eight provinces (Manitoba and Saskatchewan declined to participate) and three territories agreed to a national framework for climate change and clean growth in 2016.  

A national price on carbon will be implemented as a key part of the framework. It will be $10 per tonne of emissions starting in 2018, rising to $50 per tonne by 2022. The federal government will impose a carbon tax on those provinces that do not enact their own.

The first ministers also agreed to:

  • Phase out coal-fired power by 2030;
  • Provide 90% of power in Canada from clean energy sources in just over a decade;
  • Reduce methane in the oil and gas sector;
  • Protect the carbon stored in ecological areas (forests, wetlands, farmland);
  • Improve building codes to advance energy efficiency; and
  • Deliver annual progress reports on implementation.

Further reading:

The world continues to heat up

While the Paris Agreement aims to enable warming to a limit of 1.5 degrees, the world got a glimpse of what that would look like in 2016. Climate Central reported that: “the average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C, essentially equaling the 1.5°C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators in Paris last December.

Further reading:

What might be in store for 2017?

Despite international agreements and national intentions, many recognize the slow pace of action inherent at these scales. Here in Canada, a focus on provincial and local government climate action will be essential to the success of the newly adopted national framework, and other efforts. Coalitions of municipalities have developed from this recognition, both nationally and internationally. Municipalities can access coalitions such as these for support on urban planning and climate action:

There is much to look forward to and participate in for 2017. To keep you in the loop, we suggest:

Paddling along Toronto's Waterfront

Project Update: TransformTO: High Profile Energy and Emissions Quantification for the City of Toronto

SSG is leading a high profile energy and emissions quantification project known as TransformTO. The modelling aspects of TransformTO include developing an action plan for reaching the City’s 2020 GHG reduction target, and a decision-support framework focused on achieving Toronto’s 2050 80×50 GHG reduction target, which aligns with the Province’s reduction of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Both the short term and long term analysis involved quantifying measures and actions directly relevant to those indicated in Schedule 1.

Part 1 involved developing a GHG emissions baseline and Build-As-Planned (BAP) scenario to quantify the emissions reductions potentials of Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions to the year 2050. The inventory and projection is undertaken according to the Global Protocol for Cities (GPC) using CityInSight, a spatially explicit energy, emissions and finance model developed by SSG and whatIf? Technologies. This process involved significant efforts in collecting, organizing, and interpreting data from public and private entities, including spatial geographical information (GIS) and Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) data. A major analysis of City, Regional and Provincial policy was undertaken to develop assumptions and model a BAP scenario.

Part 2, currently underway, involves modelling the GHG emissions reduction potential of implementing a host of low carbon actions to meet the City’s target, and an analysis of the co-benefits and co-harms of these actions. A key focus has been evaluating the implications of land-use policy for key GHG emissions drivers such as transportation and buildings, and the opportunities associated with interventions such as transit and district energy.

Progress to date:

  • The Baseline & BAP reports are complete.
  • The 2020 plan is complete and has been approved by Council where it was sent to the budget committee.
  • A detailed research & analysis report looking at the of Co-benefits and Co-harms Associated with Low Carbon Actions has been produced.
  • We are currently completing the low carbon modelling for 2050 – modelling the impact of low carbon actions using our model, CityInSight.
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.

Man walking down a city street in front of some art.

We’re attending the Conference of the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation. See you there?

The Conference of the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation is happening in Vancouver from November 2nd-5th.  SSG is a proud worker cooperative. We are pleased to attend the conference and help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CWCF & CoopZone. This conference will be a great opportunity for participants to meet, share ideas, and build networks in the worker cooperative sector.

The Co-operators CEO, Kathy Bardswick, will be the keynote speaker and the conference will cover several practical training topics such as:

  • Managing the democratic process in a worker co-operative;
  • Financing worker co-ops; and,
  • Strengthening your Co-op’s value proposition.

Find more details on it here, and be sure to touch base with us if you plan to attend!

We’re growing! Welcome to 4 New SSG Associates.

New Associates Petronella Tyson, Dermot McGuigan, Dr. Gabor Sass, and Melanie Jellett join the SSG Team. 

Petronella Tyson

Petronella specialises in optimizing organisational capacity for burgeoning enterprises in social and environmental change. She is a trusted intermediary whose work has also been to broker collaborations across cultures and disciplines with potentially conflicting organisations to solve complex problems and challenges in dealing with change, presently peace in post Brexit Britain. She enjoys designing processes around operational systems and communications whilst also shouting from the rooftops about winning ideas, connecting people and organisations to those ideas.

Dermot McGuigan 

Dermot has spent a lifetime advocating for and writing about sustainable & renewable energy. He was introduced to district energy decades ago and since then has been an advocate for several projects, most proposed as non-profits or hybrid projects. Dermot has also developed and consulted on wind farms, hydropower and cogeneration projects.

Dr. Gabor Sass 

Dr. Gabor Sass is an ecosystem scientist and sustainability expert with over 15 years of research and consulting experience studying and reporting on the hydrology, ecology and related sustainability problems of boreal, agricultural, and urban landscapes across Canada. Dr. Sass applies a combination of airborne and space based monitoring techniques to characterize ecosystem patterns using principles of ecosystem science to infer the dominant processes and assess the ecosystem services behind these patterns. Dr. Sass’ work can be found published in a variety of book chapters, articles, and reports.

Melanie Jellett

Melanie is a skilled researcher, communicator, and project manager with over 10 years of experience working in the field of environment and sustainability planning, in both an academic and non-governmental organization setting. Mel has taken the lead on conceptualizing and designing projects, while working with various organizations, researchers, and practitioners. Her post-secondary education includes a Masters of Science where her research involved looking at local agricultural adaptation to climate change, with a specific emphasis on sea-level rise and local knowledge in SouthEast New Brunswick. She conducted community-level vulnerability research using qualitative and quantitative methodology, while working with some of Canada’s leading scientists.