A Comparison of Edmonton and Calgary’s Just Transition Progress

With its abundance of natural resources, highly skilled workforce, and ability to innovate, Alberta is well positioned to be a world leader in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Two of Alberta’s largest municipalities - Edmonton and Calgary - have been working toward a Just Transition, an “approach to economic, environmental and social policy that aims to create an equitable and prosperous future for workers and communities” (Natural Resources Canada) in efforts to address climate change.

In 2011, Edmonton identified the city’s top environmental challenges as climate change mitigation and adaptation, and energy sustainability and resilience. Four years later, the Energy Transition Advisory Committee was formed and the Community Energy Transition Strategy (CETS) was approved. CETS delivered more urgent and ambitious emission reductions, outlining how Edmonton will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Edmonton then hosted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Cities Conference in 2018 and created the Edmonton Declaration, committing the city to action to meet the Paris Agreement and the 1.5°C goal.

The same year, the Climate Resilient Edmonton: Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan was presented to achieve the goal of a climate resilient Edmonton and address future changes in climate, where six asset and service area themes (people, food, water, infrastructure, places, and economy) and 18 actions are identified. In 2019, Edmonton declared a climate emergency and directed the update of CETS. This new CETS presented a 30 year vision with a strategy and action plan for the next 10 years, where four themes to transformative action were identified: 1) a renewable and resilient energy transition, 2) emissions neutral buildings, 3) a low carbon city and transportation, and 4) carbon capture and nature based solutions. 105 actions were listed with various impact levels and differing funding requirements.

Notable CETS initiative progress to “advance programs which assist Edmontonians and Edmonton businesses in pursuing a lower carbon path” (City of Edmonton, 2019)  includes the delivery of: The Greenhouse Gas Management Program to work on greening electricity of city operations to reduce civic emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 by energy retrofits of City buildings and deployment of microgeneration solar PV on City buildings and sites; the Electric Vehicle Strategy to electrify the city’s transportation system by replacing diesel buses with electric buses, protecting bike lanes, and expanding the Light Rail System (LRT); community programs such as the Change Homes for Climate: Residential Solar Program that offers rebates for the installation of rooftop solar; and the Building Energy Benchmarking Program that supports building owners and operators to reduce energy consumption. 

In 2009, Calgary signed the Calgary Climate Change Accord alongside eight other members of the World Energy Cities Partnership. Here, cities “committed to being environmental leaders and catalysts for change by utilizing official policies and plans to reduce municipal GHG emissions” (City of Calgary, 2018). The Climate Program was developed in 2017 to provide strategic direction to climate related activities. A year later, Calgary adopted the Climate Resilience Strategy that had two main goals: to reduce contributions to climate change and to take measures to reduce the impact of extreme weather events. The target this strategy identified was an 80% reduction in city-wide GHG emissions below 2005 levels by 2050.

Two plans emerged from this strategy, with a total of 244 suggested actions - a mitigation plan and an adaptation plan. The Climate Mitigation Action Plan was developed to provide direction on how to address GHG emissions. This plan consists of five themes: 1) building and energy systems, 2) transportation and land use, 3) consumption and waste, 4) natural infrastructure, and 5) leadership. The Climate Adaptation Action Plan was developed to provide direction on how to address climate change impacts in the context of uncertainty. Again, five themes were identified as climate risks (people, infrastructure, natural infrastructure, water management and governance), and 75 actions were suggested.

An update to Calgary’s Climate Resilience Strategy will occur in 2022 after targeted engagement with diverse groups of stakeholders and citizens. Significant progress in the strategy’s initiatives so far include: launch of the Commercial Building Benchmarking Program to help building owners and operators make investment decisions for energy upgrades, work on the Green Line Light Rail Transit (LRT), providing guidance for energy performance on new facilities through the Sustainable Building Policy, installation of renewable energy generation at city-owned buildings, facilities, and land to improve energy efficiency and conservation, and adding electric and low carbon fleet vehicles such as electric waste collection trucks and buses. 

Both cities have implemented strategies for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, with many similarities in both plans. It is interesting to note that the resulting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced in both cities differ only slightly. The four major sources of GHG emissions in Edmonton are transportation (31%), manufacturing, industry, and construction (27%), commercial and institutional buildings (20%), residential buildings (18%). The remaining 4% of emissions come from agriculture, forestry, waste, and wastewater treatment (4%). Edmonton has an asset which Calgary does not -  the river valley and urban forest - which captures ~1% of Edmonton’s emissions. In Calgary, 34% of emissions are attributed to transportation, 9% of GHG emissions are attributed to manufacturing, industry and construction, 31% of emissions are attributed to commercial and institutional buildings, 25% of emissions come from residential buildings, and the remaining 1% of emissions come from waste. 


GHG emissions produced from transportation in both cities are similar. Compared to Edmonton, Calgary’s commercial and institutional buildings emit 11% more GHGs, manufacturing, industry, and construction emit 18% less GHGs, residential buildings emit 7% more GHGs, and waste emits ~3% less GHGs. GHG emissions produced by both cities are similar; however due to the differing population, the per capita emissions for Edmonton are comparatively higher. In 2017, the City of Edmonton’s community GHG emissions were calculated to be 18,392,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). The same year, the City of Calgary’s emissions were calculated to be comparative to that of Edmonton’s at 18,770,000 tCO2e. Accounting for the population of both cities in 2017- where Edmonton’s population was 982,186 and Calgary’s population was 1,291,450 - Edmonton produced approximately 18.7 tonnes of GHG emissions per person, and Calgary produced approximately 14.5 tonnes of GHG emissions per person. With a lower population in 2017, Edmonontians produced 4.2 more tCO2e than Calgarians. 

 There is still much work to be done to include all communities and groups most affected by climate change and energy transition as both cities continue to implement similar climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies to achieve a Just Transition. 

Works Referenced