Local sustainability in Toronto (Canada) and Portland (USA)


ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability

1 - Toronto: Getting ‘Ahead of the Storm’ to Avert Adverse Climate Change Impacts

Toronto’s climate adaption strategy ‘Ahead of the Storm’ is the city’s comprehensive plan to prepare the city for the adverse effects of climate change. Spurred on by unprecedented climate patterns and damage as a result of adverse climate change, the City of Toronto pioneered and developed a new tool for assessing potential risks to the city’s services and infrastructure. The Climate Change Risk Assessment Tool is an essential aspect of the new adaptation strategy that contributes to a growing body of knowledge on climate change risk management and is one of the most advanced in the world.

City profile

Case Study #149 Toronto

Population: 2.5 million

City size: 632km2

Membership: Toronto Joined ICLEI in 1992.

Appr. municipal budget per capita: US$ 4,040

GDP per capita: US $47,700 (PWC)

1.1 - Climate proofing Toronto

Toronto has already begun to feel the effects of climate change. During the summer of 2005 the city experienced 41 days with an average temperature of over 30° Celsius, almost three times the number of hot days experienced on average between 1961 and 1990. In the same year, the city experienced an extreme precipitation event (more than 150mm of rain fell in a three hour period)which caused flash flooding and resulted in an estimated CAD$500 million (US$ 0.5 billion) in property damage. Conversely, in 2007, the city experienced its driest summer in 50 years with 95 consecutive days without significant rain and in 2011 experienced the hottest day on record. Events of this kind affect the ability of the city to deliver key programs and services, and impact some of the most vulnerable populations in Toronto, including at risk-groups suffering from chronic or pre-existing illnesses, the homeless and the elderly. In response the City of Toronto Environment Office developed a city wide climate adaptation strategy ‘Ahead of the Storm’.

1.2 - Providing the basis for effective climate change resilience

An important result of Toronto’s climate adaptation strategy was the development of a comprehensive and innovative Climate Change Risk Assessment Tool. The Tool (aligned with international risk management standard ISO 31000 and ISO 14001)is a computerized program that helps service and infrastructure providers prioritize and rank risks stemming from climate change.

Transportation Services and the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration are divisions within the city which have had the opportunity to pilot the tool. Transportation Services examined more than 90 road infrastructure assets and services including roads, bridges, culverts, traffic control signals, snow plowing and salting. The Shelter Support and Housing Administration examined a large apartment building, a women’s shelter and one program for the homeless known as ‘Streets to Homes’.The risk assessment team from Transportation Services identified seven relevant weather phenomenon based on historical experiences, including: freeze/thaw, extreme snow, extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme freezing rain, extreme rain and extreme wind. An assessment was undertaken and three areas were identified as having priority assets (95 high priority assets and services), infrastructure and services:

Furthermore, the assessment indicated that three major areas on which to focus resources and funding for future adaptation actions. They were:

Based on these findings the Transportation Services Division developed a series of recommendations to plan for the physical effects of climate change while maintaining core services. Recommendations focused on building an integrated environment and climate risk management program including: developing a climate risk management governance structure; implementing a communication and training program to educate staff in the risk management process; and ensuring a continuation of divisional risk assessments. The objective is to help manage costs in the present and the future, while delivering core services.

As part of the development and piloting of the tool, risk training was undertaken for city staff. One lead assessor and eight risk assessors from within the Transportation Services Division were selected and trained in the risk assessment process. Selected staff members were identified on the basis of their specific knowledge of the assets and services being assessed. Approximately 1700 risk scenarios were developed.

An important aspect of the city’s adaptation initiatives, in terms of broad engagement, was the creation of the Toronto Region Action Group on Extreme Weather Resilience which has since been rebranded as the WeatherWise Partnership. The group was convened by the City of Toronto and Civic Action, a non-profit group which brings together members of the private sector to promote the prosperity of the region and initiate dialogue with the community regarding risk. It brings together members of the private sector, city staff, the non-profit community, and other levels of government to work together and identify actions to reduce risk.

1.3 - From Needs to Assessment and Action

Climate change awareness and action has a long history in the City of Toronto. With the creation of the ‘Toronto Atmospheric Fund’ in 1992, which was made possible by an endowment of US$23 million from the sale of city property, Toronto has been taking action on climate change for over a decade. In 2007, the Toronto Environment Office (TEO) convened the first ever gathering of all three levels of government and local academics and NGOs on the issue of climate change adaptation in Canada. In July 2007 the city unanimously adopted the ‘Climate Change, Clean Air and Sustainable Energy Action Plan’. Although the plan focused primarily on mitigation activities, it also directed that a strategy be established which outlines adaptation actions to reduce the impacts of climate change. Following a series of extreme weather, the City of Toronto’s Environment Office developed a city-wide climate change adaptation strategy Ahead of the Storm. It was unanimously adopted by the city council in 2008. The city has also begun to implement both short and long term adaptation actions.

The TEO began by creating internal mechanisms to secure ongoing support and leadership from city divisions and council for the development of a comprehensive, multi-year adaptation process. This was essential for the development of the Climate Change Risk Assessment Tool. It also ensured input from key stakeholders, such as the Province of Ontario, as well as a review of current urban practices and relevant literature.

1.4 - Factors for success

Development and sharing of the tool has given the City of Toronto the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in addressing the very pressing and complex issue of climate change. The city now has the ability to contribute to the field of climate change adaptation research through the sharing of this tool.

Active stakeholder engagement has been essential to the city’s adaptation efforts. The establishment of the WeatherWise Partnership brought on board various stakeholders in an effort to raise awareness of the risks associated with climate change and how the community as a whole can adapt to meet this challenge.

2 - Portland: Sustainability as an engine for economic growth

Portland provides a good example of how policies can be shaped to support a green urban economy in terms of green job creation and job retention especially during times of economic uncertainty.Portland’s‘Economic Development Strategy’ includes a focus on a sustainable growth strategy in terms of green jobs, clean tech clusters and sustainable urban planning and management. The city’s focus on sustainable development policy has resulted in substantial growth in the urban sustainability sector -a manifestation of the green urban economy.

City profile

Case Study #150 Portland

Population: 550,000

City size: 377km2

Membership: Portland joined ICLEI in 1991.

Appr. municipal budget per capita: US$ 4,900

GDP per capita: US$ 47,811 (2008) (US Bereau of Economic Analysis)

2.1 - Green investments as a recovery plan

Portland is experiencing the adverse economic impacts of the recent financial crisis. In response the city created an Economic Development Strategy in 2009 designed to address poor economic performance and ensure job growth and retention. Portland’s approach represents an example for other cities exploring linkages between urban sustainability and economic growth. Portland’s strategy builds upon investments in sustainability (in economic development and public policy) to chart a new economic growth trajectory, building upon a solid history of innovative strategies. In doing so, the city offers an excellent example of how green urban economic policies can have positive impacts in terms of job growth, job retention and an overall increased economic productivity, in a difficult economic climate.

2.2 - Sustainable policy making leads to job retention, creation and economic productivity

Portland has a long history of promoting innovative approaches to urban sustainability beginning with the ‘Urban Growth Boundary’ in the 1970s to pioneering of ‘Eco Districts’ today. Portland’s quality of living has attracted a highly educated and creative workforce. Portland’s accomplishments include GHG emissions reductions of 3 per cent between 1990 and 2011 (compared with an increase in the US of 7.3 per cent between 1990 and 2009) and has demonstrated improvements in transit and commuting options, bicycle friendliness, air quality, water quality, land use planning, climate action, green buildings, and waste management etc.

The creation of both the city’s Economic Development Strategy and the new Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) in 2009 represents a new phase in Portland’s aim to develop linkages between economic development and sustainability. The economic development effort reveals the impacts of integrating sustainability into the city’s strategy. The investments in the current Economic Development Strategy are US$ 3.2 million for 2011.

Portland’s efforts have resulted in an estimated US$ 355 to US$ 960 million in annual wages from the green building cluster in 2008. Additionally, bicycle related industries accounted for an estimated US$ 90 million in value and 850-1150 jobs.The Economic Development Strategy helped to attract 15 new companies and retain 1,100 existing jobs and created more than 1,900 new jobs through financial assistance to 132 local businesses. In 2011 the Portland metropolitan region boasted over 27,000 jobs that produce or add value to goods and services, and result in an environmental benefit. The median wage for these jobs is US$ 43,000 per year and worth US$ 14,000 in exports to the economy.

The local government and the Portland Development Commission worked to leverage over US$ 600 million in investment helping to create 2,284 construction jobs. Furthermore, 390 businesses have obtained local, state and federal loans, grants and incentives totaling US$ 9 million. Portland also attracted the solar energy company Vestas and thin film manufacturer SoloPower energy storage leader ReVolt to set up operations in the city. This resulted in 751 new jobs and 300 retained jobs. The city also developed capacity in the wind energy supply chain resulting in sales and services totaling US$ 2 million for local wind firms.

2.3 - Pioneering the green urban economy

Portland’s effort to create and strengthen its sustainable economy is rooted in the city’s dedication to urban innovation. In 1979 the city adopted its Urban Growth Boundary, allowing for the type of density necessary for a functioning transit system and sustainable service provision. Since the early 1990s it has been an influential leader in sustainability, being the first city in the United States to adopt a carbon emissions reduction plan. In 1994 Oregon Province adopted its Sustainability Principles, which eventually culminated in today’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability that works to infuse sustainability into all aspects of the city’s development.

Portland has a clear and ambitious goal: to build the most sustainable urban economy in the world. To achieve this, the city created the Economic Development Strategy in 2009, which strives to integrate sustainability into the fabric of the city’s economy. The five year plan rests on three pillars that trace back to the concepts found at the first Rio Earth Summit:

To implement the Economic Development Strategy, the Mayor established an ‘Economic Cabinet’, made up of leaders from all facets of the local economy including the city’s target clusters which include: clean tech, software, research and commercialization, athletic and outdoor industries, and advanced manufacturing. The Economic Cabinet advises the Mayor and identifies investment opportunities. The Mayor’s office is responsible for strategy updates and provides oversight on the implementation of the strategy.

The Portland Development Commission (PDC), the city’s economic development agency, is tasked with delivering key aspects of the Economic Development Strategy. Building on Portland’s commitment to sustainability, the mission of the PDC is “to bring together resources to achieve Portland’s vision of a diverse, sustainable community with healthy neighborhoods, a vibrant central city, a strong regional economy, and quality jobs and housing for all.”

2.4 - Factors for Success

By building upon the city’s reputation, the city demonstrates that an environmental social integrity model and urban sustainable practice can be integrated with developing robust competitive economic development strategies.

Decades of intelligent decision making and investments are needed. Other cities will need to take major course corrections in public policy and investments; however Portland shows that action based on long-term strategic thinking results in a viable return of investment.

Policies at state and local level have helped to foster Portland’s achievements. Some of the city’s successful policies concerning investments in mass transit systems, bicycle infrastructure, tax credits for alternative energy use, green building codes, and land use ordinances have been linked with policies and programs at the state and federal level. This is crucial for the development of a sustainable urban economy.

Local Sustainability 2012 Case study series: Showcasing progress in local sustainability

Published by :

In Partnership with :

  • Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind

  • United Nations Human Settlements Program UN-HABITAT

  • Study and editing team

    Richard Simpson, Shay Kelleher, Monika Zimmermann, R¸diger von Krosigk, Steven Bland (ICLEI World Secretariat, Bonn, Germany)


This case study series is part of the Local Sustainability 2012 study that consists of this publication and a global overview report (ICLEI 2012, Local Sustainability 2012: Taking stock and moving forward, Global Report).

To download both parts, visit www.local2012.iclei.org

ICLEI Case Studies 138-151 summarized in this Global Report are available in full length at www.iclei.org/casestudies.

ICLEI Global Reports are research and analytical reports produced by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. By featuring different themes and characters the ICLEI Global Report series contributes to international discussions and policy developments.

ICLEI Global Reports are available at www.iclei.org/globalreports or in print for a cover fee.

To go further

The cases are presented in alphabetical order by world region and country, but are not representative for that region. Rather the presented cases are a cross-collection of sustainability themes across the world from cities that can be considered pioneering and especially advanced within their regional culture. Also the selection attempted to feature not the usual suspects. They illustrate the diversity of approaches to highlight global progress in local sustainability in cities and by local governments. Each presented case showcases progress towards urban sustainability. Firstly by providing an overview of the locally identified challenge and response. Secondly, highlighting significant achievements and results. Thirdly, detailing the process and actors involved in the preparation and implementation, and finally, key factors for the city’s success.

To dowload the complete study : local2012.iclei.org/local-sustainability-study/