In 1902, oil was first discovered in the Canadian province of Alberta, a region rich with mineral deposits and diverse landscapes. Alberta soon became a hub of the oil and gas industry, resulting in a prosperous provincial economy.
At the south of this province sits its largest city, Calgary. More than 100 offices of major oil and gas companies are located in the "energy city," and while Calgary welcomes these conventional sources of energy, it's now driving additional economic prosperity through a modern approach: a comprehensive climate program accompanied by an in-depth Climate Resilience Strategy.
"For us, there was never this conflict with, 'As city government, we are against the oil industry.' We understand there's a lot of transition and we are looking at this energy revolution as really the next step in building on the energy history that we actually have in Calgary," said Dick Ebersohn, manager of climate change and environment for the City of Calgary and lead author of the city's Climate Resilience Strategy.
Released in 2018, the strategy highlights the inevitability of climate change and outlines top strategies to make the city "resilient to future shocks" in the face of devastating climate impacts, such as flooding. It compliments the city's larger climate program, which prioritizes the five key areas where resilience can be addressed: leadership, capacity building, climate planning, partner alignment and public awareness/outreach.
By the numbers
Ebersohn and his team engaged with "folks directly on the ground" for a risk and vulnerability study that addressed how changing temperatures would directly impact various sectors in Calgary. They pulled together working groups with stakeholders across the building industry, land development, architecture and other sectors to discuss key actions that could be taken at-large to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.
To ensure that Calgary's recommended actions were feasible, Ebersohn's team researched other international cities — including London, San Francisco and nearby Edmonton, Alberta — to understand how they developed their respective climate plans.
"We wanted to understand, what was the context for them? Because context matters so much for the narrative that you write in your plan, as well as that key direction to get the buy-in from citizens," Ebersohn said. To foster that buy-in, the city shared the message of its climate ambitions by focusing on three key pillars: energy management and carbon reduction; supporting a low-carbon economy; and risk reduction from severe weather events.
The city's final climate strategy report was approved in June 2018, and officials have since seen a strong wave of support in tackling climate change. The city conducted a survey from Sept. 16-23 that asked more than 500 Calgarians for their opinions on extreme weather events. Nearly three-quarters of respondents shared interest in personally working to combat climate change.
Calgary is also in the process of hiring a climate change planner to provide advice and recommendations on climate-related planning matters to city council, industry stakeholders and the public.
"It was a no brainer for us to go forward and say, 'We need a senior planning specialist that can come on board and provide that guidance,'" Ebersohn said. The city has welcomed a large pool of applicants and is currently working to hire a candidate with the right knowledge of both municipal operations and climate trends.
Looking ahead, Calgary is hopeful that fresh leadership and a continued desire to bolster resilience will push the city to a prosperous, low-carbon future. “We are fairly middle-of-the-road in terms of who we are and what we do," Ebersohn said, adding "we’re on a fast-track to move this forward."