June 14, 2016

Ontario Climate Consortium Reflects on the New Climate Change Action Plan

Ontario’s Climate Change Action plan represents a comprehensive and ambitious blueprint for stimulating the transition towards a low carbon society. Given the scope and ambition of the plan, it is clear that significant dialogue between government, municipalities and the broader public sector, as well as indigenous voices, and private sector stakeholders will be required to develop and implement the new and enhanced programs that are described in the action plan.

It is important that this dialogue takes place in as transparent a manner as possible to ensure that a multitude of voices contribute to the development of the Just Transition that is referred to in the Action Plan.  As an organization dedicated to knowledge exchange at the intersection of academia, the public sector, and civil society, the OCC will continue to support dialogue across stakeholder groups, through the Annual Ontario Climate Symposium and other targeted outreach events.

The most recent Ontario Climate Symposium at the University of Guelph was an incredibly successful event that attracted more than 200 delegates across society to discuss the future of food in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region. In the context of the Government’s Climate Change Action Plan, we look forward to continuing our efforts to build awareness of the importance of transformational action, and mobilize expertise across the spectrum of research policy and practice that exists within our diverse stakeholder networks.

Focusing specifically on the land use planning portion of the Action Plan, the Ontario Climate Consortium supports the aspects of the plan that seek to mainstream climate change planning in municipal government, including enabling legislation for mandatory municipal Green Development Standards, and for making climate change a requirement in municipal official plans. These aspects of the action plan align with recommendations made by OCC researchers in 2015 regarding integration of climate change into the land use planning framework for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region. We are pleased to see that evidence-informed policy featured so prominently in this and other areas of the Action Plan.

We also support the creation of the proposed “Challenge Fund” for municipalities and other stakeholders to support with matching funds initiatives linked to community energy plan implementation.  The OCC is coordinating a Canada-wide study on community energy planning policy and governance, which will include training and outreach for municipal staff on the data-driven tools that are available to drive implementation, including solar potential mapping and district energy consultation processes. This 3 year research program, to be led by University of Guelph professor Kirby Calvert and co-ordinated by Ontario Climate Consortium Secretariat, with engagement from professors at York University (Mark Winfield), Western University (Jamie Baxter), Simon Fraser (Mark Jaccard) and Dalhousie (Michelle Adams), will support many of the community energy planning initiatives detailed in the Action Plan.

Moving to the agriculture, forests and lands portion of the Action Plan, the OCC notes the considerable emphasis placed on building better understanding carbon storage and sequestration in the land base, leading to the development of a Forest Carbon Policy Framework to “help clarify the role of managed Crown Forests in storing carbon”.  Given the OCC’s position at the nexus of municipal government, conservation authorities and academic institutions, we think it is worth highlighting on behalf of our network that forest carbon management is an important issue outside of Crown Forests. Forests, wetlands and other natural areas in municipal and Conservation Authority jurisdiction provide significant carbon sequestration benefits alongside resilience building benefits such as flood attenuation, filtering of pollutants, as well as habitat and shading.  We look forward to engaging in dialogue around a provincial Forest Carbon Policy Framework that is appropriate across in various ownership contexts, and in particular in urbanized regions where the co-benefits of natural areas are multiplied greatly.

Finally, the OCC anxiously awaits the release of the next iteration of the Provincial adaptation plan in 2017, including announcements related to the climate modelling collaborative. The OCC network contains province-leading expertise on current impacts, adaptation and resilience, spanning the spectrum from research to implementation.  At the core of the OCC is a function of knowledge mobilization and translation, helping to get climate data and impact information to where it is needed in municipal and CA planning, and to build capacity within and across municipal operations through the use of climate data in climate impact studies such as vulnerability and risk assessments. Our recent work in the Region of Peel and York Region provide province-leading examples of climate adaptation planning in the municipal context.  We hope that funding for the promised modelling collaborative includes support for a practitioner outreach function to support the translation of data into information and knowledge that leads to informed decision-making, and look forward to working as part of the province-wide collaborative that emerges.

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