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Local Responses to Climate Change: Evidence from Ontario’s Cities

11:00, Tuesday 9 May 2023 EDT (30 minutes)

This study considers two questions: 1) what are cities and their governments doing to address climate change?; and 2) what challenges do they face in developing and implementing action?

Climate change is considered as one of the most complex challenges in the twenty-first century policymakers (see Guyadeen and Henstra, 2023; Tozer, 2015). As cities are currently responsible for approximately 70% of global carbon emissions, they are quickly becoming one of the key nexus points for policy and practice related to climate change (Baynham and Stevens, 2015; Dale et al, 2020; Guyadeen et al, 2019). Within this context, the need for concerted efforts toward local de-carbonization efforts is becoming increasingly important for cities. Local governments now understand that they can no longer be passive players in addressing climate change, but instead require action (Donoghue and Katz-Rosene, 2023; Schreurs, 2008). While many cities have begun taking steps towards local action – for example, over 2,100 jurisdictions globally have declared a climate emergency – many questions remain about the abilities of local governments to affect meaningful change (Gore and Robinson, 2009; Porter et al, 2015). Indeed, for cities in Canada, barriers exist to successfully developing and implementing climate change and de-carbonisation strategies (see Robinson and Gore, 2005). To answer the overarching research questions of the study, and in doing so explore what cities are doing and the challenges or barriers they face, this research investigates the knowledge, experiences, and perceptions of public and private-sector stakeholders (i.e., city officials, communication experts, consultants, non-profit workers) from cities in the Province of Ontario, Canada that have declared a climate emergency. Using a decision-theatre format with two focus groups, (n = 14 participants) key issues were explored, with an inductive, grounded theory approach used to analyze responses, identify key themes and issues. Emerging from the focus groups were several clear themes. Answering the study’s first research question, there was positivity about the direction that cities were taking to help address climate change locally. These ranged from energy audits, green buildings, the support of electric vehicle expansion, the development of a culture of climate action, and more focus on green and climate-based policies. Despite the general positivity, however, a number significant challenges were also identified (answering the study’s second research question) that need to be addressed before efforts can become more comprehensive and effective. These are both internal and external to local government. Internally, issues included overcoming local bureaucracy, organizational disorganization, and siloing of information and responsibility. Externally, challenges around equity and civic participation were identified as key roadblocks to developing and implementing strategies. Finally, another area of challenge was at the government-community interface which included challenges related to developing key communication and branding strategies to generate community engagement.

Toronto Metropolitan University
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