There are 444 municipalities in Ontario. Approximately 90% of these communities are populations of less than 25,000. Tacking climate change poses specific challenges for communities of this size. Smaller municipalities have fewer staff generally, never mind staff dedicated to climate and energy. They have less discretionary funds available due to a smaller residential and commercial tax bases, and many suffer from declining and/or aging populations.
Compounding this lack of resources, many smaller rural communities face a greater exposure from the effects of climate change. Agriculture and forestry have suffered from recurring drought, fire and pest invasions. Summer tourism revenues have been affected by fire, flooding and low lake levels. Winter tourism has been hit by unpredictable snow fall for skiing, insufficient ice thickness for ice-fishing and reduced opening of the snowmobiling season.
Despite these disadvantages, smaller communities have certain opportunities available to them in tackling climate change. Smaller staff numbers create advantages when it comes to collaboration across departments, something larger municipalities struggle with. Decisions can be made and enacted more nimbly, and with greater and more immediate effect.
The energy consumed in municipal buildings, vehicles, and operations, represents a far greater contribution to community greenhouse gas emissions than in cities, so smaller municipalities can have a greater ability to directly influence emissions as a whole from the community. In smaller communities, the local government has a more direct and prominent role in everyday life as compared to larger urban centres. Smaller communities are also connected to surrounding agricultural communities, offering opportunities for GHG reduction that are not available in cities.
Considering renewable energy generation, rural communities are leaders in Ontario. Solar, wind, biomass, small hydro and large hydro installations have been a facet of rural Ontario life for decades. At the lot level, because rural properties tend to be larger, homes have greater ability to create on-site renewable energy, install heat pumps and create local food production opportunities.
It can be difficult to start on the path towards a cleaner energy future with limited staff resources. Luckily, there are many others who have gone before. At Clean Air Partnership, we convene networks and ensure the transfer of knowledge to catalyze transformative action. We showcase what can be done, regardless of your municipal size or geography. Some climate action plans from smaller municipalities are highlighted below. To talk more about fostering climate action in your municipality, please reach out to us, we would love to help.
Sample Climate Action Plans for Small/Rural Communities
By Kevin Behan, Deputy Director, Clean Air Partnership