September 8, 2017

2017 Ontario Climate Symposium – Workstream C: Planning and Implementation

OCC 2017 climate symposium logo

Session 1C: Regional Land Use Planning


  • Climate change realities often conflict with the sometimes heavily developer-influenced planning process.
  • Getting a diverse set of stakeholders to agree is challenging.
  • When public participation is involved, those proposing a change always need to do at least twice the work of someone arguing to preserve the status quo.



Chaired by York University Professor Jennifer Foster, the panel on land use planning featured three planning professionals: Susan Swail, a former municipal councilor and consultant at Environmental Defense Canada, Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, and Jason Thorne, General Manager of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Hamilton.

This panel was organized as an extended Q&A with Professor Foster, introducing a series of discussion questions for response from the panel. Topics included challenges that planners face related to climate change, social and cultural inequity in planning, NIMBYism and climate action, and the role of expert knowledge in planning.

The first question focused on the biggest climate change challenges faced in land use planning. Some major themes discussed included urban sprawl, the carbon-intensive construction of single-family homes, and the challenge of building consensus between multiple agendas and stakeholder. Another major challenge is how to retrofit the existing municipal infrastructure for a zero-carbon future.

The topic of social and cultural inequity in planning for climate change was also raised. Panelists generally agreed that planning is too influenced by private interests and is set up in a way that seems to disincentivize marginalized groups from participating. Grassroots planning could be a way of getting more marginalized groups involved in a way that might lead to initiatives like more affordable housing. 

Another important question posed to the panel was whether in some cases public participation accelerates climate change (because of Not-in-my-backyard sentiments)? Panelists acknowledged that this is sometimes a problem, and that in general the bar is always higher for people on the side of change. This is why it’s important to do public participation in a way that presents all the facts.

The discussion evolved into a larger conversation about the role that knowledge and facts play in planning, especially in an era some people call “post-truth” where well-established scientific facts are contested for political reasons (as in the case of climate science).

The challenge arises when evidence conflicts with people’s personal beliefs. As one of the panelists noted, while planning should be evidence-based, we cannot ignore participation. Perhaps the best response to this would be to develop an alternate participation method in a way that local residents play a larger role in knowledge production.


Session 2C: Addressing Challenges Faced by Low-Income Communities


  • Climate change mitigation strategies do little to address the potential effect on disadvantaged communities.
  • Measures should be taken to ensure that any transition to renewable technology benefits the least well-off.



Chaired by Ian McVey from the Ontario Climate Consortium, the panel explored challenges faced by low-income communities, including susceptibility to flood risk and energy poverty and the opportunities to implement new technologies. Topics discussed included how current cap and trade strategies do not include any reference to low-income populations, the importance of retrofitting social housing, the potential cost benefits offered by smart grids, and the moral implications of measuring flood risk.

The panel began with Barbora Grochalova from the Canadian Environmental Law Association talking about carbon pricing and energy poverty. As Grochalova pointed out, climate change’s effects on the environment and energy pricing disproportionately affect low-income communities.

Currently proposed plans to curb emissions through carbon pricing and cap and trade do not include strategies to support low-income and vulnerable populations. Grochalova argues that this is unjust, and that we need a piecemeal approach to ensure support for the vulnerable.

Abhilash Kantamneni, from the University of Guelph, spoke about energy sustainability in social housing. Social housing is an important part of Ontario’s affordable housing stock. However, only 2 percent of it has been retrofitted for emissions reductions.

As Kantamneni sees it, this could be a good opportunity for government cost savings, provided the following barriers can be overcome: 1) awareness of the situation, 2) the collection of sufficient technical data, 3) institutional efficiency on government funding, and 4) the building of a business case to demonstrate cost savings.  

Ian Rowlands from the University of Waterloo presented on the potential benefits of smart energy grids for low-income households.

According to Rowlands, smart grid technology could bring costs down considerably. Challenges with this approach are high initial sunk costs. In addition, vulnerable households are likely to be shut out of the transformation because the initial sunk costs are so high. Therefore, the main challenge is to figure out a way to include vulnerable households in the transition to smart grids.

The panel wrapped up with a presentation from Jared Houston and Usman Khan, from Queen’s University and York University, respectively. Their talk took an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing flood risks by combining engineering knowledge about flood patterns, with a moral analysis.

The implementation of flood prevention measures is currently calculated on potential economic costs. As Khan and Houston argued, there are more just ways of considering flood prevention including basing it on potential harm to vulnerable individuals.


Session 3C: Going Beyond Compliance by Accelerating Transformational Change


  • There is a strong business case to be made in favour of sustainability based on morality, risk, and opportunity.
  • Measurement tools are an important way of tracking sustainability success.



This panel, chaired by Stefan Hostetter from the Centre for Social Innovation, explored the limits of conventional measurements and reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the barriers and opportunities to moving beyond compliance. Specific topics discussed included new strategies for measuring emissions reduction successes, the importance of evidence-based policy, methods for evaluating sustainability, making a business case for sustainability.

Lotfi Belkhir from McMaster University commenced the panel by presenting on the need for a new system for measuring success in emissions reduction strategies.

Belkir proposed an approach that considers the national targets and the emissions contributions specific to each business within a sector to determine comparable indicators for each company. This way a clear path to emissions reduction can be established.

Mark Pajot from the Region of Peel talked about the importance of evidence-based policy for addressing climate change. Pajot offered a number of examples from the Region of Peel’s recent climate change strategy report. Some of its main objectives included strengthening partnerships, reducing community vulnerability, and reducing community emissions.

Randy Sa’d from REFOCUS presented on how organizations can improve their efforts to become more sustainable.

Many companies have been making an effort to be more sustainable but some key challenges remain. For example, existing management systems are dated, sustainability staff are often under-resourced, and measurements for what constitutes sustainability remain inconsistent.

Sa’d’s organization offers a methodology to overcome these challenges through workshops and e-learning designed to engage staff in businesses and NGOs in a rigorous approach to identifying priorities and ways of measuring performance.

Leading sustainability expert Bob Willard discussed ways of demonstrating the business value of corporate sustainability strategies.

According to Willard, there are three main justifications for sustainable action:

  1. Sustainability is the morally right thing to do, given all that is at stake with climate change.
  2. Sustainable energy is a huge economic opportunity as clean energy and energy efficiency is projected to account for over 2 trillion dollars, and up to 380 million jobs by 2030.
  3. Doing nothing is an enormous risk from an economic and financial perspective.

Potential costs associated with inaction on climate change are difficult to calculate but are expected to be catastrophic to many businesses. Thus, conveying the above three justifications to the business community are crucial for climate change success.