UBC Graduate Research

At what cost? : Asking the right questions about how to finance climate change action in Canada Liem, Simon


Climate change poses a dire threat to Canadian cities. Immediate action is required to adapt urban centres to weather regimes that are becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Planners and their municipalities must change their practices in this new reality, especially with regard to planning for infrastructure. This will require a large investment into adapting urban infrastructure for climate change. Unfortunately, municipal governments are ill-equipped to face this challenge. The fiscal tools available to municipal governments are not capable of meeting the responsibilities delegated to them. This Capstone Project argues that this lack of fiscal capacity is a self-imposed political constraint that can be lifted at any time. Canada’s federal government, as the issuer of the Canadian dollar, has a unique ability to create financial resources at its discretion. This fact supersedes arguments over which level of government has the necessary capacity to spend, because the federal government has a fundamentally different ability to spend than all other levels of government. Canada also has a history of federal-municipal collaboration that continues to the present day, providing an institutional framework for directing federal resources to local governments. Proposals, such as the Green New Deal, offer paths to utilize federal spending powers and existing federal-municipal relationships to take the necessary steps to adapting Canadian cities to climate change. The goal of this Capstone Project is to show that there are fewer barriers to financing climate change adaptation than commonly thought. If the observations made in this report are accepted it will lead to more fruitful work of building cities that meet the needs of its citizens in this changing climate.

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