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ICLEI Programs Support Local-Level Sustainability

An international organization that promotes a ground-up approach to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use hopes to be a catalyst for change around the world.

It's the former International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives -- formed in 1989 to build a worldwide movement of local action to achieve tangible environmental improvement. Its name has since been shortened to its acronym of ICLEI -- and the world secretariat office is in Toronto.

ICLEI was established when more than 200 local governments from 43 countries convened at its inaugural conference, the World Congress of Local Governments for a Sustainable Future, at the United Nations in New York.

ICLEI's Toronto-based office and regional offices worldwide provide consulting, training, and information services to build capacity, share knowledge, and support local governments in the implementation of sustainable development planning at a local level.

Despite the fact that the world secretariat office for ICLEI is located in Toronto, and that the international president of ICLEI is Canadian David Cadman, the deputy mayor of the City of Vancouver, it has received little attention in Canada.

Cadman, who will hold the post until 2009, has already travelled widely on behalf of ICLEI since accepting the post earlier this year.

For instance, last April he visited Melbourne, Australia, where he met Australian and New Zealand municipal officials who were launching the newly formed Australasian Mayors' Council on Climate Protection (AMCCP).

"This initiative will provide leadership for a 'carbon neutral communities' agenda for Australian and New Zealand local governments and the pathway to achieving a carbon neutral world," Cadman said at the time. "This [Australia and New Zealand initiative] is a world first and will be a catalyst for change across the globe."

He says the concept of creating carbon neutral communities "isn't as utopian as you might think," pointing out that ICLEI has engaged more than 700 cities, towns, counties and associations across 30 countries, representing over 300 million people.

In Australia, where ICLEI is more generously funded and linked with senior governments than anywhere in the world, 220 local municipal councils, representing 84% of the population, have collectively abated an estimated 8.8 million tonnes of GHG emissions, through ICLEI's Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program.

"This is equivalent to taking two million cars off the road for a year," says Cadman. "Local government has the power to change the world and our input will guide member communities to a carbon neutral future."

ICLEI International, which has country offices in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, the Philippines and South Africa, with affiliate offices in Korea, China, Indonesia and Mexico, generates about $8 million a year in revenue, which comes from membership fees, fees for services, contracts and other sources.

Lisa Scott, projects co-ordinator for ICLEI Canada, which shares office space in Toronto with the ICLEI international office, says the Canadian office, which has four employees (the international office has about 15), has only 17 municipal members.

"The Canadian municipalities aren't as well represented as they are in other countries," she notes.

The cities include larger urban centres, such as York Region outside Toronto, Toronto itself, Oakville and Mississauga, in the same region, Ottawa, Regina, Montreal, Hamilton, Calgary and Edmonton, the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Vancouver and the nearby suburb of Delta, Sudbury and other mid-size cities.

In Canada, one of its major activities is partnering with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program, which essentially extends its reach to every municipality in Canada (FCM has 1,600 members, not all of them municipalities).

The PCP program is funded by the FCM to the tune of $80,000 a year, according to Devin Causley, senior program officer at FCM's Centre for Sustainable Community Development.

"We use that funding to promote the program and to retain ICLEI to provide technical support," he says. "This year, for the first time, they're going to track energy savings and GHG reductions."

He says that despite the modest funding "every community in Canada is aware of the [PCP] program" and there are 153 municipalities involved in some way.

FCM has sought more funding for the program from the federal and provincial governments, but so far has failed.

The funding for the PCP program in Australia, by contrast, amounts to $3 million a year, provided by the federal government, and every municipality must become involved in the process.

ICLEI Canada's Scott says the PCP program involves conducting an inventory of GHG emissions and energy use at both the level of municipal operations and in the communities as a whole.

"In doing an inventory of municipal operations, we would take into account such things as the energy use and GHG emissions from municipal buildings, from their vehicle fleet, and from their water and sewage and other municipal operations," she says.

The community-wide inventory includes residential, commercial and industrial buildings, as well as emissions from vehicles and waste facilities.

"All of our partners [the 17 members] have done both municipal and community inventories," she says. "We usually recommend they do both at the same time."

As with the Kyoto process, ICLEI asks the participants to establish a baseline year, which will become the reference point for the future, as it tracks GHG emissions and energy use.

In total, 63 communities in Canada have participated in the PCP program, with the inventory taking months or a year or longer, in the case of larger cities.

Under the PCP process there are five milestones, or steps, including:

  • creating a GHG inventory and forecast;
  • crafting an emissions reduction plan;
  • developing a local action plan;
  • implementing the local plan; and,
  • monitoring progress and reporting results.

The PCP program is growing steadily, Scott says.

For instance, ICLEI is involved currently in conducting an inventory and a plan for Thunder Bay, Ontario, with the first three steps being concluded.

In the northern Ontario city of Sudbury, where ICLEI is heavily involved, the "Earth Care Sudbury" program includes the involvement of 93 community partners, which includes all major corporations and organizations. It is aimed at permanently reducing GHGs and strengthening the local economy. For instance, a new biodiesel plant has just opened there.

ICLEI or consultants retained by it usually play an ongoing role in the process, although sometimes that may be in a supervisory role.

"Sometimes the communities can do it themselves, but we need to be sure they are using the right methodology and they're using the same approach as others," she says.

Municipal councils must show they are supporting and engaged in the process through the passage of a resolution.

She says the premise of the PCP process and of ICLEI's very existence is simple.

"It's based on the belief that local governments have a large role to play in climate change," she says. "Our mission is to be sure that local governments are engaged in sustainability."

On a global scale, the premise of ICLEI is to "think globally and act locally," she notes.

Many of the communities involved in the process have reached the third or fourth milestone, but only Whistler, B.C., which prides itself on being one of the most sustainable municipalities in the world, has reached milestone five.

ICLEI is working with FCM to develop a database of case studies of municipalities that have been engaged in the PCP process, which would be available to every FCM member.

In addition, the City of Toronto is conducting an analysis to determine what GHG reductions it has achieved, which will be made available to FCM members.

Scott says some members have achieved "amazing" results, one being the City of Calgary, where its "Ride the Wind" program, whereby the city uses green energy to power its rapid transit system, has led to significant GHG reductions.

Perhaps the best evidence of how effective the PCP program can work is in Australia, where dozens of municipalities have reached milestone five and where a "PCP Plus" program is now being developed, which will continually track GHG reductions and help communities achieve greater results.

Aside from its work with Canadian municipalities, ICLEI Canada recently launched two PCP programs in the U.S., in Durham, North Carolina, and Orange County, also in North Carolina.

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