Climate Carnage: How to Build Resilient Cities in Canada


  • Toronto aims to be carbon-neutral by 2040. Vancouver and Halifax are determined to catch up by 2050.
  • Canada has invested an additional $9.1B to cut emissions. But municipal innovation and collaboration is critical to the success of climate action plans.
  • In 2020, Victoriaville announced the first municipal research chair on sustainable development in Quebec.

Summer’s right around the corner. But how warm is too warm for Canada’s urban centers—and how are they adapting?

Last year we witnessed the hottest summer on record—both as a planet and a country.

That’s right, 2023 was officially Canada’s warmest summer in 76 years, i.e., since the start of national record-keeping.

An unprecedented season of wildfires became the top weather story of the year after it burned more than 15 million hectares of land and generated 475 mega tonnes of carbon—nearly three times Canada’s human-made emissions from the year before.

From catastrophic floods in Nova Scotia and Quebec to dystopian smog-filled skylines in Ontario to a “Canada Day”-tornado in Alberta, it was a tumultuous year for nearly every province and territory across the country.

Unfortunately, the next few years aren’t looking any better.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risks Report, “extreme weather events” are expected to be the biggest global risk in the next 10 years, above disinformation, adverse AI outcomes, cyber insecurity, and societal polarization. It’s clear Canada needs a more proactive approach to prepare for the future—and that’s where cities can play a critical role.

Thinking Outside the Box

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, roughly 50% our greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by municipalities, which account for nearly 92% of all Canadians. As local-governing bodies, they are uniquely positioned to effect change on a more intimate level. This can take many forms, such as local advocacy, grassroots movements, and community-based initiatives focused on climate resilience, mitigation, and adaptation.

But here’s where it gets tricky.

When people think “green transition,” they often imagine high-tech innovation. Yet high-tech isn’t always achievable, economical, or necessarily appropriate for the needs of a local community. Sometimes, low-tech solutions can be just as effective. Composting and rainwater collection, for instance, can be implemented on a smaller scale and requires fewer resources and lower maintenance than their high-tech counterparts.

Similarly, social innovation—which addresses social and environmental challenges through interdisciplinary methods and community-based action—can be instrumental in building climate resilience and adaptation strategies. We’ve personally seen tremendous climate innovations resulting from strong collaboration and community-based action.


In fact, that’s how this local student found a way to improve the biodiversity of local watersheds in PEI. And how this Whitehorse native involved First Nations communities in a mine reclamation project in Yukon. And how this postdoc researcher developed an ocean-climate education map, resulting in the world’s first ocean literacy strategy.

We could go on, but you get the picture.

Not only does collaborative research support robust climate action goals, but also empowers local communities to find creative solutions to complex challenges—a human-centered process at the heart of climate resilience and adaption.

Read more about climate action plans across Canada >>

What’s Happening in Victoriaville, Quebec?

Victoriaville is a shining example of how small and medium-sized municipalities can be a catalyst for sustainable climate action.

In 2020, the city announced its first municipal research chair on sustainable development in Quebec. Two years later, with the support and leadership of Rémi Quirion, the head scientist of Quebec, the city named Professor Simon Barnabé “Chief Scientific Advisor,” cementing ties with Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

Here’s why this was a gamechanger.

A Chief Scientific Advisor is responsible for providing independent scientific and research counsel on critical matters.


This is partly achieved by building strong research partnerships, financing R&D projects with the support of public funds, and contributing to novel innovative practices. This new way of “doing science” works exceptionally well because it moves councillors away from the quagmire of uncertainty towards research and discovery, which in turn creates regional pockets of innovation.

If you were wondering how Victoriaville became “the cradle of sustainable development,” this is it.

By creating a network of scientific advisors within local politics, municipalities can make informed strategic decisions around climate action with the aid of emerging research. The practice is becoming increasingly popular across the province with another municipal research chair in the City of Laval, and a head scientist position in the City of Longueuil.

With Professor Barnabé’s appointment, Victoriaville was also recognized by the Québec government for its exceptional contributions to sustainability. It’s no surprise that the head scientist of Quebec is now expanding his vision and encouraging others to follow suit.

What’s the Bottomline?

There’s no denying municipalities are capable of driving extraordinary change. But one of their biggest challenges is lack of resources, amplified by legal and fiscal constraints.

According to a 2022 report published by U of T’s Urban Policy Lab: “Local governments are limited in their ability to shift energy production methods and emission levels to tackle climate change without support from other orders of government.”

This means overburdened and under-resourced municipalities cannot be expected to single-handedly solve one of the biggest existential crises of our time. “Climate change is provincial, national, and global in scope,” the report reiterates.

Given these realities, municipalities are smart to explore new forms of collaboration that can potentially lead to unique, cost-effective solutions. And more often than not, these solutions are found directly within the vibrant communities they serve.

This is precisely why research partnerships are critical to the success of Canada’s climate action plans. Our post-secondary institutes offer a wealth of scientific talent that can be leveraged to support, sustain, and scale environmental efforts. At the end of the day, no individual body should bear the burden of a global crisis.

Two heads are better than one. Especially if one of them belongs to a scientist.


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Mitacs Team
Mitacs Team

Mitacs’s website content is created by people throughout our organization, united in their passion for innovation and eager to share their perspectives with others in the innovation ecosystem.