Has your municipality identified decarbonization pathways (sectors and solutions) for your community? Are you looking for effective policies, programs and approaches to support your approach? As an elected official or senior staff member, you will need a suite of tools to help your community achieve its goals. This factsheet can help you understand the strategies that are available.

Read this webpage to learn:

  • Governance strategies (policies, programs and processes) to support sector-specific climate targets
  • The difference between a consultative and a collaborative governance approach, and which one you may want to choose for each decarbonization sector
  • Examples from local governments that have implemented various governance strategies for deep decarbonization
What governance strategies are available to a municipality pursuing deep decarbonization?

Governance strategies for deep decarbonization include policies, programs and processes to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets. The strategies tend to fall into four broad areas:

  • Policy options
  • Financial options
  • Green economic development options
  • Engagement options

The relevance and impact of each varies depending on the local municipal context. Most municipalities adopt combinations of these strategies to achieve their decarbonization outcomes.

Policy options
Icon of a document with a pen and signature

Almost all Canadian municipalities use policy tools (e.g., bylaws, codes, certification) to implement their strategies for climate action.

When planning and implementing decarbonization policies, it is important to consider existing policies and jurisdictions, as well as enforcement mechanisms. It is also necessary to carefully assess advantages and barriers that may arise for various stakeholders and ensure all equity-seeking groups are considered.

This table shows examples of policy options that support deep emissions reductions in various priority decarbonization pathways.

Policy options Applicable decarbonization pathway

Policies to promote carbon sequestration by either increasing carbon storage or reducing the loss of stored carbon

Carbon sinks

Policies to promote sustainable and equitable food options

Transportation, waste and sustainable agriculture

Policies to support innovation and pilot experimentation

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Policies to introduce a climate lens in all decision-making and/or to use a carbon budget

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Legislation that supports energy audits and reporting for industrial, commercial and institutional buildings

Buildings

Voluntary energy labelling standards

Buildings

Voluntary building codes

Buildings

Green development standards

Buildings

Policies on biodiversity and green space land-use

Carbon sinks

Policies on renewable and district energy

Electricity

Policies on anti-idling

Transportation

Policies on compact and transit-oriented development

Transportation and land use planning

Policies on waste bans, reduction and diversion

Waste

Examples of policy-oriented governance strategies for deep decarbonization

  • Many municipalities have implemented anti-idling bylaws to discourage idling in all vehicles and encourage non-idling options to keep cars warm in winter. The City of Rossland, BC (population 3,729) implemented an anti-idling bylaw and put up signs in the downtown to promote the bylaw.
  • The City of Vancouver, BC (population 631,486) implemented an energy bylaw for existing buildings and a stretch code for new buildings, to reduce new builds to zero-emission and embodied emissions by 40%.
  • The City of Saint John, NB (population 71,364) amended zoning bylaws to include a new green energy land-use zone for large-scale renewable energy projects. The city also revised its asset management policy to ensure climate mitigation and adaptation are considered for both new infrastructure and infrastructure renewal.

A large grassy field outdoors.
Site of the Burchill Wind Project near the City of Saint John. The project will provide 42MW of power, is set to be completed by the end of 2022 and is estimated to reduce the community’s GHG emissions by 16%. Photo credit: City of Saint John.

Financial options
Icon of a hand holding a dollar sign

Financial tools stimulate behavioural change through a combination of pricing, taxes, low-interest loans, charges, fees, subsidies and community grants.

This table shows examples of financial options that support deep emissions reductions in various priority decarbonization pathways.

Financial options Applicable decarbonization pathway

Local carbon credits

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Local improvement charges

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Divestment of pension funds

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Green bonds

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs

Buildings

Financing options for residential retrofits

Buildings

Financial incentives (e.g., rebates) for net-zero property development

Buildings

Free or low-cost public transit pricing, electric vehicle parking pricing, incentives for biking to work (so no need for parking)

Transportation

Congestion pricing

Transportation

Stormwater charges and grants

Waste

Examples of finance-oriented governance strategies for deep decarbonization

  • The Town of Halton Hills, ON (population 61,161) is exploring the option of a third-party partner (e.g., an NGO, non-profit, or cooperative) to administer investments and loans related to climate change.
  • The City of Saskatoon, SK (population 245,181) launched a Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) in 2021. Similar to property assessed clean energy (PACE), the program will provide loans for energy efficiency retrofits and energy generation on residential properties.
Green economic development options
Icon of a cog with a bar chart inside

Efforts to reduce GHG emissions usually create significant economic development opportunities and savings. Many Canadian municipalities are experiencing economic benefits from climate action, green procurement policies and aligning their decarbonization plans with economic development strategies. Integrating decarbonization efforts with economic development can often accelerate local action, especially in municipalities that are hesitant about pursuing or funding climate action.

This table shows examples of policies, programs and processes that integrate climate action with economic development to support deep emissions reductions in various priority decarbonization pathways.

Green economic development options Applicable decarbonization pathway

Green jobs

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Workforce training on climate-related information

Buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, sustainable agriculture, land use planning and carbon sinks

Investment in renewable energy

Electricity

Public/active transportation infrastructure, electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Transportation

Green procurement policies (e.g., green fleet)

Transportation

Energy recovery from waste

Waste

Examples of green economic development strategies for deep decarbonization

  • The Town of Bridgewater, NS (population 8,532) developed its Community Energy Investment Plan as a green economic development strategy and plans to create green jobs in the building, transportation and energy sectors.
  • The City of Victoriaville, QC (population 47,796) is collaborating with Economic Development Corporation to develop an industrial eco-park and a greener industry
Engagement options
Icon of two speech bubbles

Engaging the public and community organizations requires focused effort and communication throughout the decarbonization planning and implementation cycle. Engagement activities range from seeking public feedback on a proposed decarbonization plan to establishing a collaborative decision-making model. Successful engagement activities create transparency, improve climate literacy and awareness, and promote support for climate action.

Corporate and community-wide climate action plans need different types of engagement. Corporate plans involve consultation and perhaps partnerships for implementation, while community-wide plans require a collaborative approach that uses shared decision-making and collective action. The next section provides more information on collaborative and consultative approaches.

Examples of engagement options that support deep emissions reductions in all priority pathways for decarbonization (buildings, transportation, waste, electricity, and nature-based solutions).

  • Advocating to other orders of government
  • Undertaking community-based social marketing
  • Identifying and prioritizing collaboration to implement community or sector decarbonization projects, programs or actions
  • Participating in transnational or regional networks
  • Implementing local partner membership programs
  • Partnering with educational institutions
  • Providing public education on energy and electrification, transportation, waste and building retrofits
  • Consulting with stakeholders, community members and technical experts

What are the different types of municipal engagement for deep decarbonization?

During the decarbonization planning process, municipalities often find themselves taking part in different types of engagement. These may be categorized as stakeholder engagement, rightsholder engagement, advocacy and lobbying, and partner engagement.

1) Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholders are both people (the public) and groups and organizations. Stakeholder engagement is vital to inclusion and integrated decision-making throughout the decarbonization planning process.

When planning for community-wide decarbonization, municipalities must continuously build trust among stakeholders, to align the decarbonization plan with stakeholder values and needs while achieving deep decarbonization targets. Additionally, meaningful participation may be encouraged by ensuring diverse stakeholder representation and equipping stakeholders with the appropriate tools and capacities for action.

Example of stakeholder engagement for deep decarbonization

  • The Town of Drayton Valley, AB (population 7,235) hosted a series of energy literacy workshops that encouraged participants to envision an energy future that fits the community, and to talk about how that vision could be realized. Participants included local residents, businesses, academia and elected officials from neighbouring communities.
Groups of people discussing around tables in a large room.
An energy literacy workshop hosted by the Town of Drayton Valley. Photo credit: Town of Drayton Valley.

2) Rightsholder engagement

Many municipalities in Canada are on the traditional unceded or treaty territories of Indigenous peoples. It is important to identify Indigenous rightsholders that might have their treaty and Indigenous sovereignty rights impacted by an implementation action or decarbonization strategy. Indigenous involvement in the engagement process is necessary to ensure meaningful representation and participation of the Indigenous rightsholders within or in proximity to the municipality. Rightsholder engagement must be conducted in a timely, transparent and respectful manner.

Soliciting engagement from Indigenous government representatives, urban Indigenous organizations and/or sovereignty-seeking groups in decarbonization planning and implementation is an important part of the overall engagement process. It helps ensure that deep decarbonization efforts are done in collaboration with Indigenous organizations and that the plans incorporate Indigenous knowledge and wisdom and consider the implications on traditional territories and land claims.

3) Advocacy and lobbying

Advocacy and lobbying can encourage more action on and attention to decarbonization from other orders of government. This can include regulatory and financial support.

Example of advocacy and lobbying for deep decarbonization

  • An intergovernmental department in the City of Guelph, ON (population 131,794) and local community groups are advocating to other orders of government for support for climate action. An example is the community group named Advocacy is our Story.

4) Partner engagement

GHG emissions reductions require collective effort from multiple stakeholders, and partner engagement is critical to ensuring everyone is working toward the same vision. Through active partner engagement, stakeholders can be part of community-wide transformation and connect with the local government on decarbonization efforts. Partner engagement often requires negotiating roles and organizational contributions.

Examples of partner engagement for deep decarbonization

  • The City of Grande Prairie, AB (population 69,088) engaged the downtown association in the decision to install electric vehicle charging stations. It also connected with the Chamber of Commerce to involve builders and developers.
  • In BC, City Green Solutions has collaborated with nine municipalities (Capital Regional District, City of Victoria, District of Saanich, District of Central Saanich, City of Campbell River, Regional District of Nanaimo, Comox Valley Regional District, Township of Esquimalt, and Cowichan Valley Regional District) on a residential retrofit acceleration project to help reduce emissions from the building sector.
  • The City of Rossland, BC (population 3,729) partnered with the local utility Fortis BC, the Columbia Basin Trust, and the Nelson and District Credit Union to develop the Rossland Energy Diet and retrofit more than 150 homes.
What is the difference between a consultative and a collaborative governance approach?

Climate mitigation requires both broad and deep participation. To that end, municipalities use different approaches to engage internal and external stakeholders to address climate change.

  • The consultative approach is a municipal-led approach where stakeholders operate in an advisory capacity to the local government. Decision-making rests with the municipality. This approach is ideal when targeting GHG emissions reductions from municipal operations, services, buildings and fleets.
  • The collaborative approach involves shared decision-making and participation among stakeholders in the implementation process. This may include public/private partnerships (contract), joint ventures and projects (agreement), sector-specific multi-stakeholder working groups (voluntary), large cross-sector partnerships (voluntary), and community NGOs with a multi-stakeholder board (incorporation). This approach is ideal for topics and issues that are not under the direct control of the municipality.

The consultative approach is often sufficient for corporate-level governance. However, the collaborative approach is essential to successful community-wide decarbonization efforts.

What is the best set-up for a collaborative approach?

Designing a collaborative approach depends on the municipality and its needs. For example:

  • A cross-sector partnership might be best for organizing major employers and having them commit to a range of actions, such as transitioning their fleet, offering incentives to encourage active/public transit for employees, retrofitting their heating/cooling systems, adding renewable energy generation to their operations, or improving their organic waste diversion.
  • A sector-specific approach might make more sense when the focus is narrower, such as coordinating with key partners to design, develop and retrofit residential buildings.

This table shows examples of the leading stakeholders and the suggested governance approach for various priority pathways for emissions reductions.

Priority pathway for decarbonization Leading stakeholders
(Can be adapted as required)
Suggested governance approach

Electricity

Electricity production

  • Provincial Crown utilities and regulatory agencies
  • Municipalities
  • Businesses
  • Indigenous organizations

Collaborative

Electricity transmission and distribution

  • Provincial Crown utilities and regulatory agencies
  • Municipalities

Collaborative

Buildings

Municipal-owned buildings

  • Municipalities

Consultative

Residential housing

  • Real estate developers
  • Trades
  • Homeowners
  • Indigenous organizations
  • Municipalities
  • Material suppliers
  • Energy auditors
  • NGOs (e.g., environmental groups, equity-seeking groups, newcomer groups, seniors’ groups)

Collaborative

Commercial buildings

  • Businesses
  • Developers
  • Trades
  • Municipalities
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • NGOs (e.g., environmental groups, equity-seeking groups, seniors’ groups)
  • Indigenous organizations

Private sector–led with municipal, Indigenous and NGO influence and support

Industrial and institutional buildings

  • Industrial and institutional organizations and companies

Industry-led with municipal, Indigenous and NGO influence and support

Transportation

Municipal fleets, including public transit

  • Municipalities

Consultative

Personal vehicles

  • Citizens
  • Vehicle sales locations
  • Zero-emission vehicle groups

Collaborative

Business and organization owned vehicles

  • Businesses
  • Institutions

Collaborative

Mode shift

  • Municipalities
  • Bicycle groups
  • Ride-share, rental and taxi companies
  • NGOs (e.g., environmental groups, equity-seeking groups, seniors’ groups)
  • Businesses

Collaborative

Waste

Wastewater operations

  • Municipalities

Consultative

Landfills

  • Municipalities
  • Citizens
  • Waste businesses
  • Industry, commerce and institutional entities related to food or agricultural waste

Consultative

Carbon sinks (nature-based solutions)

Municipal parks and green spaces

  • Municipalities
  • Indigenous organizations

Consultative

Protected areas and historic sites

  • Municipalities
  • Other orders of government
  • Indigenous organizations

Multi-order governance and municipal advocacy

Assess the effectiveness of your governance strategies and approaches

The questions below can help you and other members of your municipal climate action team assess the effectiveness of your governance strategies and approaches for deep decarbonization.

  • What are some of your current strategies for implementing climate action? How effective have they been in reducing GHG emissions? Will they enable you to reach your interim and long-term deep decarbonization targets?
  • Do your existing policies accelerate or inhibit implementation of your decarbonization plan? Should they be revised to make them more effective, or are new policies needed?
  • Are the scale of action and speed of strategy implementation appropriate to achieve the targets? Are you on track to reach your interim corporate and community-wide targets?
  • What resources and information do you need to gain support from the public and other senior leaders for taking action on deep decarbonization?
  • Are your climate action plans benefiting community groups differently? Are they causing unintended negative consequences for equity-seeking groups, or are they helping to simultaneously address social goals?
  • How can other senior leaders and members of your municipal climate action team assist you in advocating to other orders of government for more supportive decarbonization strategy options?
Key terms

Carbon sink: A system that absorbs more carbon than it emits (e.g., forests, wetlands, oceans, soil).

Deep decarbonization: is the process of reducing carbon dioxide emissions (and others GHGs) at a rate that ensures net-zero emissions at the community-wide level by the year 2050 and significant reductions by 2030.

Deep decarbonization pathways: The electricity, building, transportation, waste, land use and agricultural sectors are priority pathways for establishing policies and other solutions to advance climate action. The relative contribution of each sector toward community-wide emissions can vary significantly depending on the municipality’s economic base, urban form, density, wealth and sources of electricity in the grid.

Deep decarbonization plan: A corporate or community-wide climate action plan that aims for at least 80 percent reduction of GHG emissions by 2050. (Note: Although the word carbon (in the sense of carbon dioxide equivalent) is often used, all GHGs are considered as part of deep decarbonization plans and carbon neutrality goals.)

Equity-seeking groups: Communities that experience significant systemic barriers to participating in society; these are often barriers to equal access to opportunities and resources due to systemic discrimination. The barrier may be due to factors such as age, ethnicity, race, nationality, disability, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or economic status. It is important that communities include diverse groups in their decision-making to make meaningful and just decisions about their governance approach.

Stakeholders: Persons or groups who are directly or indirectly affected by a project. They may also have interests in the project or influence (positive or negative) on the project outcome.

About this factsheet

This factsheet was created through a partnership between FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP) and the University of Waterloo’s Dr. Amelia Clarke and Ying Zhou. The information is based on literature reviews and interviews with 11 partner organizations and 51 local governments that were part of MCIP’s Transition 2050 (T2050) initiative. T2050 provided grants to regions of all sizes in Canada to help them reach significant carbon emissions reduction targets.

The factsheet also draws on Deep Decarbonization in Cities: Pathways, Strategies, Governance Mechanisms and Actors for Transformative Climate Action, by Samantha Hall Linton.

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