Climate Emergency Plans Across Canada

By Simon Savinel & Damanjit Sandhu

Land Acknowledgement: The city of Calgary is located on the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy: Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai, as well as the Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, and the Metis Nation of Alberta Region 3, who are all traditional keepers of this land. We acknowledge that the climate crisis is an ongoing result of the colonization and disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples and that decolonization is essential in achieving climate justice.

Newly-elected mayor Jyoti Gondek indicated that one of the first orders of business for her will be to declare a climate emergency in Calgary. In conjunction with COP26 in Glasgow, let’s examine where Calgary stands compared to other Canadian large urban centers.

Municipal action is critical to preventing and adapting to climate change, as cities control decision-making affecting transportation and buildings, two of the largest sources of emissions. Calgary also owns ENMAX, one of Calgary’s largest sources of emissions.

Calgary is the fourth-largest city in Canada by population, preceded by Toronto (1st), Montreal (2nd), Vancouver (3rd), and followed by Edmonton (5th).

Among the five largest Canadian cities, Calgary is the only city to have not yet declared a climate emergency. In fact, many smaller cities in Canada have already done so, leaving Calgary in a position of unclaimed responsibility and leadership. Alongside many others in Canada and around the globe, each of these cities have declared a climate emergency:

  • Montréal (2018)
  • Toronto (2019)
  • Edmonton (2019)
  • Vancouver (2020)

What’s in a climate emergency declaration?

A declaration of climate emergency is a motion voted on and passed by a government that names and acknowledges the current state of climate emergency. It acknowledges that past actions have not been sufficient and formally states the need to respond to this great challenge. While the declaration is symbolic in nature and is not linked to action in itself, city councils elsewhere have used it to express a commitment to action and to preface strengthened climate policies in recognition of the science behind the need for rapid response to rising global temperatures. The international community recognizes the need to get GHG emissions to net-zero by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Calgary’s Climate Resilience Strategy will be revised over the next few months. Leadership from the other largest Canadian cities points to many areas of municipal climate response where Calgary must improve. Here are a few of the top actions and how we can learn from other municipalities:

1. GHG reduction timeline - Set a Net-zero Target


Current per-capita yearly GHG emissions

2030 reduction target

2050 reduction target


14 tonnes (2020)


80% reduction from 2005 levels


18 tonnes (2020)




5 tonnes (2016)




10 tonnes (2016)




6 tonnes (2019)

50 per cent


Calgary’s existing target is 80 per cent of 2005 levels by 2050. All of the other top five largest cities have set or revised their municipal emissions reduction target to achieve net-zero by 2050 with interim targets set for 2030.

2. Sustainable building policy

According to the National Climate League, Calgary ranks fifth among Canada’s large cities in proportion of sustainable buildings, with 1.5 buildings per 100k residents.

In 2019, the policy was updated to allow more options in terms of green certification. But by allowing a lot of flexibility on this question and mid-projects amendments, it rendered the policy inefficient in strengthening the sustainability standards for taxpayer-funded buildings. Also, updates to the Sustainable Building Policy mention “reducing and avoiding GHG emissions” but do not have net-zero emissions as a stated goal, and the mechanisms to achieve the principles are weak. Calgary needs a 3T policy that has net-zero Targets, is Transparent, and has Third-party verification.

Elsewhere in Canada

  • Edmonton: Edmonton ranks seventh in terms of proportion of sustainable building at 0.4 per 100k. The need for net-zero building is stated but no clear timeline is provided. Incentives (commercial and homes) are in place to retrofit existing buildings.
  • Montreal: Montreal ranks sixth in terms of proportion of sustainable building at 0.8 per 100k. And as part of its Climate Plan 2020–2030, it states that all new buildings should achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.
  • Toronto: Toronto ranks third in terms of proportion of sustainable building at 1.7 per 100k. In July 2021, its city council adopted several resolutions, including that all new buildings should achieve net-zero emissions by 2030, while creating incentives to retrofit existing buildings.
  • Vancouver: Vancouver ranks at the top of Canada’s large cities in terms of proportion of sustainable building at 8.6 per 100k. And as part of its Zero Emissions Building Plan adopted in 2016, it states that all new buildings should achieve net-zero emissions by 2030, while creating incentives to retrofit existing buildings.

3. A less car-centric city

The city of Calgary has a pedestrian and cycling strategy in place, has the largest bike lane network in the country (1,290 km) and even in the world with the introduction of its Greenway Project in 2018 according to the National Climate League. However, much of that infrastructure is for recreation, rather than daily activities. Calgary performs poorly with regards to its public transit strategy, with expansion projects such as the Green Line subject to delays, and it currently ranks #5 in number of trips per capita (84). Urban sprawl has been temporarily slowed down but there is currently no plan for making future development projects more accessible by walking or cycling.

Elsewhere in Canada

  • Edmonton: the Edmonton City Plan states that the city’s growth to 2 million inhabitants (currently slightly below 1 million) should allow for 50 per cent of trips made by transit or active transportation (walk or bike), development of 15-minute districts that allow people to easily complete their daily needs. The timeline depends on population growth rather than dates. Edmonton ranks #4 in number of transit trips per capita (88).
  • Montreal: as part of the goal to reach its GHG reduction goal by 2030 detailed in its Climate Plan 2020–2030, the city intends to promote the use of public transit as well as encouraging remote work in order to reduce solo car trips by 25 per cent. Montréal ranks #2 in Canada in terms of bike lane network size (846 km) and #1 in number of transit trips per capita (236).
  • Toronto: as part of the 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto, the objective is to achieve 100 per cent of transportation using low-carbon energy sources and walking and cycling accounting for 75 per cent of trips under 5 km. No intermediary target is provided for 2030. Toronto ranks #4 in Canada in terms of bike lane network size (557 km) and #2 in the number of transit trips per capita (189).
  • Vancouver: as part of its Climate Emergency Action Plan Summary, the objective by 2030 for the city is that 90 per cent of people will live within an easy walk or roll of their daily needs, 2/3 of trips in Vancouver to be by active transportation and transit 50 per cent of the km driven on Vancouver’s roads to be by zero emissions vehicles. Vancouver ranks #5 in Canada in terms of bike lane network size (321 km) and #3 in the number of transit trips per capita (177).

4. Green space and tree planting

Trees and healthy natural ecosystems allow for carbon offsetting by sequestering GHG emissions to be sequestered from the atmosphere. Trees also reduce heat islands and help mitigate the impact of heat waves. In Calgary, some efforts are underway to double Calgary’s tree canopy from its current 8 per cent to 16 per cent by 2060. The city is also working to restore natural habitats in 20 per cent of green spaces by 2025.

Elsewhere in Canada

  • Edmonton: The city aims to plant an additional 2 million trees by 2040 and to protect and restore significant ecosystems by 2030. Carbon capture technology and nature-based solutions to offset carbon pollution will account for up to an estimated 17 per cent of emission reductions in Edmonton to reach net-zero.
  • Montreal: By 2030, Montreal aims to plant 500,000 trees (currently 21 per cent canopy), increase the area of protected zones to 10 per cent of the territory (currently 6.1 per cent), and to reduce the area of heat islands (no specific target).
  • Toronto: Plans are indicated to increase tree canopy to 40 per cent from the current 28 per cent by 2050. There is also a Pollinator Protection Strategy in place with 30 actions in support of green spaces and healthy natural ecosystems.
  • Vancouver: The city plans to increase its tree canopy to 22 per cent by 2050 and to continue restoring natural shorelines to capture carbon. It is also currently developing a specific carbon capture target and action plan to be released later this year that will include land and aquatic-based projects both in and outside of Vancouver in order to capture the city’s "fair share” of carbon pollution.

5. Switch to renewable energy

The city mentions the need for a transition to renewable energy as part of its Climate Resilience Strategy, but does not provide a timeline or a percentage that the city should try to achieve in order to respect its GHG emission reduction goal for 2050.

Elsewhere in Canada

  • Edmonton: as part of its Edmonton's Community Energy Transition Strategy and Action Plan, the city indicated its objective that 100 per cent of the energy used is provided using decarbonized energy sources and to see a complete buildout of a city-wide decarbonized district energy network by 2050.
  • Montreal: the city mentions the shift to renewable or low-carbon energy sources as part of its target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in its Climate Plan 2020–2030, and that all municipal buildings will have to be powered with renewable energy. However, the plan does provide details such as the percentage of energy provided through renewable or low-carbon energy sources by this date.
  • Toronto: as part of the TransformTO strategy, the city indicated its objective that 100 per cent of the energy used is provided using renewable or low-carbon energy sources. Actions in support of this goal include Community Energy Planning and District Energy.
  • Vancouver: as part of its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, the city indicated its objective that 100per cent of the energy used is provided using renewable sources.

The way forward

The freshly elected city council has the opportunity to set a new path for the City of Calgary. The efforts underway in other Canadian cities provide valuable lessons on which the city can build a bold plan and become a leader in climate action. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C at the global scale will require significant measures to be taken, which include international decisions such as the ones currently being discussed in Glasgow during COP26 but also local initiatives as suggested in this article. We need Calgarians to engage with each other on climate change issues and hold their councillors accountable to ensure that when approved, declaring a climate emergency will be followed by plans for targeted actions in our city.

Simon Savinel


Living the dream, supporting environmental initiatives in Canada at work and as an activist