In 2019, when the City of Port Moody partnered with the ACT - Action on Climate Team at Simon Fraser University, its goal was to develop its first-ever Climate Action Plan. The city wanted to work with the climate-focused research-to-practice hub embedded in the university’s Faculty of Environment because of its reputation for taking a systemic approach to climate action. It “coordinates climate action – adaptation and mitigation planning while advancing key co-benefits in community health, equity, biodiversity and economy,” says Mayor Meghan Lahti.
City officials had high hopes for the project, which included a framework guided by the team. The outcome of the work was better than expected.
“Port Moody streamlined development of three plans – an overall climate action framework, as well as a plan specific to reducing emissions and an adaptation plan – into one low-carbon resilient planning process. By pursuing one planning process rather than three, Port Moody saved an estimated 50 per cent of funds and approximately one year of time,” Lahti says.
ACT was founded as a research hub and university-based think tank in 2006 to “create space in the climate discourse around the need to adapt to projected climate impacts,” says its executive director, Alison Shaw. Even back then, scientists understood that climate changes were inevitable, she explains, but the general public largely did not. “There was very little policy discussion or public discourse around what that meant, and how communities could respond,” she says.
As Shaw points out, most of the conversation around climate action focuses on reducing emissions, which slows climate change though still would not stop it entirely. But it was just as important for governments, organizations and individuals to understand that they must adapt to these changes, which are inevitable. So, the team focused mostly on communication, especially with professional communities across Canada, including engineers and planning associations.
Now, work is focused on community-centred research to mobilize best practices in effective climate integration and action. Shaw joined ACT five years ago, and quickly got to work developing the Integrated Climate Action for B.C. Communities Initiative, a research project that offers municipalities an equitable, a low-carbon resilient approach to city planning and tests its efficacy.
One key element of the low-carbon resilience approach is balancing the reduction of climate risk and reduction of emissions, Shaw says. “We need to minimize any contradictions between them, because often you can have emission reducing strategies that actually increase vulnerability or vice versa,” she says. “For example, with the heat dome, people turn on their air conditioning, that’s increasing emissions. It’s a contradictory strategy. The goal of low carbon resilience planning is to say let’s combine both of these planning processes into one, saving municipalities money, but also preventing contradiction and identifying synergistic strategies.”
It’s a goal that has resonated with municipalities across the province. Between 2018 and 2021, the team worked with 10 other cities including Gibsons, Surrey and Nelson to embed decisions and strategies that look for ways to reduce climate risk and emissions and advance sustainability. This resulted in the development of a handbook that formalizes the low-carbon resilience approach, and it has now become a recognized best practice in city planning and been adopted by higher education institutions in North America. Protecting nature and applying nature-based solutions has emerged as a critical low carbon resilience strategy for communities to buffer against the impacts of climate change, sequester carbon, promote biodiversity and critical ecosystem services. ACT is launching its Natural Solutions Initiative, which looks for nature-based solutions to address multiple challenges relating to climate change, biodiversity, equity and reconciliation, and municipal service delivery.
ACT is just one of SFU’s climate-focused initiatives supporting the university’s institutional plan, which lists sustainability as one of its core values. Additionally, SFU is leading the way in community-centred climate innovation, an approach founded on community partnerships, innovation and a deep commitment to Indigenous knowledges and perspectives. And, several SFU researchers are working on climate solutions in early warning technologies, climate risk and hazard reduction, agritech, clean energy, cleantech, transition policies and economics, and applying a social justice lens.
The common thread between all of these efforts is a focus on climate action as well as community. In Port Moody, for example, ACT’s support has helped the City update its sustainability report card, as well as develop plans around handling extreme weather events, building climate-ready homes and buildings and creating policies around climate-resilient landscaping for public land. Now, the City is signing on to the think tank’s next research project, the Natural Solutions Initiative.
It makes perfect sense that Port Moody would want to continue working with SFU. As Lahti points out, collaborating with ACT has “saved Port Moody time and money, increased climate action buy-in and ensured shared accountability across corporate strategy.” Click here to learn more about SFU’s climate innovations.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Simon Fraser University. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.