About Just Green Cities

Aerial panorama view of Old Quebec City

From National Commitments to Local Action

This Discussion Paper addresses a core challenge Canadians face in implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing the climate crisis: municipal infrastructure renewal. This is because about 80% of Canadians live in mid- to large cities, ones that must undergo massive transformation in order to reach our SDGs and climate goals by 2050. And municipalities have core policy influence over approximately half of all of Canada's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Here's the problem: The global SDGs and GHG frameworks to which Canada is signatory, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, have created new GHG and social equity obligations. Yet, in Canada these frameworks are for the most part treated as aspirational. In practice the ambition they embody collides with a staggering lack of progress.

One key reason: the grand challenge of moving from big concepts to operationalizing change at the municipal level. So, as three organizations committed to helping Canada achieve the SDGs, we decided to help drive change by asking: How do we create a common framework and language for integrating equity-driven decision making into municipal infrastructure renewal to respond to the climate crisis and implement the SDGs?

We focused our research on three key areas of municipal infrastructure: net zero housing, fleet electrification and stormwater management. Notably, we also embed sustainable finance in our framing. In the lifetime of these three municipal infrastructure issues, sustainable finance and private capital will be major factors in driving—or stalling—change.

In order to create this evidence-based Discussion Paper, in the pandemic summer of 2021 we conducted literature reviews in each of the topic areas. These in-turn informed a series of topic-based scoping workshops with diverse participants from across Canada. We wanted to capture the most up-to-date experiences and voices of those working in these three infrastructure areas.

The resulting Discussion Paper provides two core tools: A unique, integrated landscape review on current municipal infrastructure renewal efforts; and a flexible framework for incorporating SDGs and equity-based perspectives into municipal decision making. We recognize that this Paper is a start—for example, Indigenous reconciliation and voices must critically be added to the conversation and partnership with Indigenous organizations is the appropriate pathway for that to happen.

We hope this Paper will fuel and expand efforts already underway in many Canadian communities to implement SDG-informed planning. The urgency of our situation cannot be overstated. During the course of this project, almost 600 Canadians died in B.C.'s summer heat wave followed by the most devastating and costly flooding in B.C. and Canada's history. These climate-related catastrophes emphasize how the municipal infrastructure decisions we make now will determine our well-being for generations.

We look forward to feedback and working with you to move from national commitments to local action!

Windfall Ecology Centre
Possibilian Ventures
Government of Canada

Funded in part by The Government of Canada's Sustainable Development Goals Funding Program.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.