In Ontario, municipal governments are responsible for providing most services within the municipal boundary including, but not limited to, water and sewage, electric utilities, road maintenance, snow removal, childcare, long term care, garbage collection and recycling. By law in Ontario, municipalities must publish and implement corporate Conservation and Demand Management (CDM) plans that summarize municipal energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), describe measures for conserving energy, and estimate the expected results of current and proposed measures. Municipalities also lead community climate action planning, although they are not mandated to do so.
To deliver the services they provide for their communities, municipal governments must raise revenue through taxes paid by their residents and businesses, non-tax revenues (user fees, fines etc.) and provincial government payments. For all Ontario municipalities, revenue is a major concern. Infrastructure debt and provincial downloading have pushed municipal finances to the limit. Additionally, COVID-19 has considerably reduced commercial property taxes and diverted municipal funds towards the much-needed pandemic response.
While municipalities of all sizes are constrained, when it comes to the creation and delivery of climate action plans, small municipalities are at a particular disadvantage. In addition to the aforementioned constraints, small municipalities also struggle with declining populations which can result in a declining property tax base. Due to a combination of geography and demography, many of these municipalities have limited economic development opportunities, and some find it tremendously difficult to attract and retain business. Despite this, these communities must reduce their GHGs. As such, partnerships with non-profits can help municipalities advance climate action without overburdening municipal financial and human resources.
In our role as Regional Climate Advisor for the Partners for Climate Protection Program, we produced a Guide describing the various mechanisms available to municipalities to deliver on climate action through non-governmental organizations. It provides examples of how local governments have used charities, non-profits, and unincorporated entities to advance climate solutions. For each mechanism, we highlight the pros and cons of the approach and provide an existing Ontario-based example of how this has been put into place and what the results have been. The Guide details the benefits and challenges of non-profit partnerships and provides a range of additional resources for municipalities who wish to pursue this model.
While they do not offer a complete solution for the delivery of municipal climate action, non-profits can complement municipal activities with positive outcomes for our environment, the municipality, and the community. Both the municipal government and non-profit sectors are not without their challenges, but through municipal-non-profit partnerships, we can advance environmental progress with greater efficiency and speed, especially in smaller, more resource-constrained communities.
By Kevin Behan, Deputy Director, Clean Air Partnership