Citizen Action Monitor

Lament for Canada’s Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program. Pt 2/2: The “lamentable” evidence

No 37, Posted by fw, Aug 1, 2010


This two-part post is a summary of David Gordon’s research study of Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program. PCP was created to help over 200 Canadian municipalities engage in effective climate Change policy. Part 1 sketched the origins, institutional context, and core functions of PCP, and briefly explained how sub- and non-state players like PCP influence municipalities to engage in climate change policies.

Recall Gordon’s research question: How and how much has the PCP program impacted on local climate policy in Winnipeg and Toronto? Part 2 reviews his findings.

On paper, the PCP program looks robust. However, the empirical component of Gordon’s paper — case study analyses of two PCP member cities, Winnipeg and Toronto – reveals the reasons for his lament.

Toronto was an obvious case study choice: it has a long history of climate change policy engagement dating back to the 1990s, an international reputation as a leader in climate change policy, and an institutionalized commitment to climate policy within the city bureaucracy. In striking contrast, Winnipeg would make an interesting comparative case study precisely because it could not match Toronto’s track record of past accomplishments.

Gordon evaluated city performance in terms of the extent to which PCP was successful in leveraging  the four governance functions — regulating, networking, guiding, and enabling — to “steer” the two cities’ climate change policy developments.


Regulating (creating, implementing, and enforcing rules)

PCP developed a number of “rules” that apply to its member cities, including GHG emission targets and prescribed reductions within 10 years of joining. The rules and norms are intended to “guide members’ behaviour.” However, over the past decade PCP has downgraded the emphasis on mandatory emission reduction targets. There is no mention at all now of mandatory targets. Interviews with PCP and ICLEI staff confirmed that the targets were intentionally dropped as a means of lowering barriers to engagement, increasing membership, and acting as an entry level system.

Winnipeg’s action plan, which finally emerged in 2006, contained no mention at all of community emissions. As for corporate emissions, the current target of a 20% reduction by 2018 (below a 1998 baseline) conforms to the PCP “rule” of 20% reduction within 10 years. However, Winnipeg’s reductions are being approached by the shifting of emissions off the corporate ledger, which does not signify a true translation of the PCP targets into “real” actionsThis raises concerns regarding the city’s willingness to overcome the implementation gap and achieve meaningful reductions on a community-wide basis.

Toronto, on the other hand, has moved well past the PCP targets, and has already adopted more aggressive EU targets: 6% reduction by 2012, 20% by 2030, and 80% by 2050. It’s too early to tell if Toronto’s aggressive performance will permeate throughout the city-network to influence other PCP municipalities.

Networking (creating linkages along which information, knowledge, expertise and norms can flow)

The networking function, which one would expect to be central to a city-network, receives little mention on the PCP web pages or in its annual reports.

PCP perceives itself as being primarily a “network of pioneers for pioneers”. This is the core strength of the program. The presumption is that if city A is having a problem, PCP will be able to put A in touch with cities B and C that have experienced a similar difficulty.

Interview responses from Winnipeg indicated significant perceived value in networking, especially when it came to preparing an action plan, developing an emissions inventory, and resolving implementation challenges. The impact of PCP’s network hub was characterized as “important and influential”. Unfortunately, there was no hard data to measure the extent to which best practices do indeed move along network pathways, measures which might have backed up subjective impressions.

In Toronto’s case, evidential support for the perceived impact of network linkages is scarce. Interviewees there saw little benefit from network membership. In fact, the linkages between PCP and Toronto have weakened to the point where there is a general sense of disconnection between the two parties. This is reflected on the PCP website: despite having completed all five PCP milestones, Toronto is listed as having only completed three. On climate change mitigation, Toronto was directing most of its attention towards major international cities with which it had a greater affinity. On the plus side, PCP’s recent publication, Municipal Resources for Adapting to Climate Change contains numerous references to Toronto’s adaptation efforts, and may represent efforts to draw Toronto back in from the cold.

Guiding (norm creation and dissemination)

Norm creation refers to the extent to which PCP is perceived to have influenced a shift in normative behaviour and attitudes among a city’s elected officials and its resident population towards an expectation that GHG emissions should decline over time.

In Winnipeg, there is significant evidence in support of the uptake of the norm of city participation in the governance of climate change:

“Interviews revealed that PCP is perceived to have played a major role in the creation of the local action plan, and in the general shift in attitudes within City Council that has allowed for climate change concerns to begin to become entrenched in the local policy decision making process.”

Although PCP was instrumental in getting climate change onto the local agenda, the extent to which norms have diffused from the few to the many is debatable:

“The modest nature of [Winnipeg’s] current targets, in concert with the means through which they are being achieved – [by shifting emissions off the corporate ledger] — significantly weaken any argument made for the impact of the PCP to foster a norm of aggressive emissions reduction.”

Toronto shows similar evidence regarding the uptake of the norm of city participation in climate governance. Toronto has adopted very aggressive reduction targets and appears to have internalized the norm of taking strong local action. But the linkage between Toronto’s norm creation and PCP’s “steering” efforts are tenuous. Owing to the weakened links between the two, PCP’s impact on the promulgation of norms is difficult to discern in Toronto’s case.

Enabling (encouraging action through provision of ideas, best practices, and resources whether logistical or financial; capacity building through provision of tools to engage in policy)

The bulk of activities undertaken by PCP are of the enabling kind, including: the mandatory five-milestone policy engagement framework; access to technical tools and resources; and access to the Green Municipal Fund in order to support the preparation of emissions inventories and action plans. Enabling influence can also be found in the splitting of emissions into corporate and community segments. Treating corporate emissions separately is a way to get climate change on the local political agenda. And the show of support for the reduction of community emissions will help to bring local policy entrepreneurs and concerned public citizens on board.

In Winnipeg — even in the face of political resistance within City Council and in the Mayor’s Office — there is a strong perception that PCP enabled the city to create and pass corporate emission targets, begin integrating sustainability and climate change impacts into the regular decision-making process, and has helped to “normalize” the issue. Access to the GMF has provided a source of funding that has facilitated capacity building used to create an emissions baseline, an action plan, and raising emissions awareness in the policy process. (Note: GMF funding actually takes place outside of PCP channels and does not, therefore, embody the “steering” through enabling function). It’s too early to tell if Winnipeg’s initial small steps forward can be converted into a broader plan embracing a community-wide emission reduction plan.

Toronto, under the enabling governance of the Urban CO2 Project, succeeded by Cities for Climate Protection, had already taken its first emissions reduction steps before PCP arrived on the scene. Evidence of the impact of the early adoption of capacity-building initiatives in Toronto featured a heavy emphasis on corporate actions: civic building retrofits; streetlight upgrades; fleet right-sizing; and landfill emissions capture and re-use. In the words of one interviewee:

“The best thing that somebody can do from a policy point of view is not to spout rhetoric, but it’s to put in programs that work. Because that diminishes resistance and it also increases information.”

In 2007, Toronto released its 31-page Change is in the Air action plan:

Change is in the AirToronto’s Commitment to an Environmentally Sustainable Future is the City’s framework to engage the public on the issue of climate change, and determine how the City will meet its greenhouse gas and air pollution reduction targets. The framework provides ideas on the strategies, policies, programs and projects needed to meet the City’s ambitious reduction targets and identifies 27 potential actions that the Toronto Government, residents, businesses and industry can take to tackle climate change and improve air quality.”

Given Toronto’s advanced progress, PCP’s enabling effects appear to have declined dramatically. The perceived benefits of PCP membership are non-existent in the eyes of Toronto’s city policy officers: they were completely unaware as to what resources PCP offered and did not consider PCP as a resource for technical or policy support. Toronto has benefited from access to GMF funding as a means of facilitating investments in energy efficiency, brownfield redevelopments,, and building retrofits. (Note: GMF funding actually takes place outside of PCP channels and does not, therefore, embody the “steering” through enabling function).

Evaluating the evidence

PCP’s weak targets, the unwillingness to engage in attempts to enforce compliance, and downgrading of targets within the PCP framework can all be understood as attempts to expand membership by making participation as painless as possible.

The perceived and observable impact of PCP on local climate change policy appears to be inversely related to levels of city resources allotted to the issue. In Winnipeg there has been a minimal amount of funding, staffing, and resources allotted to the development of climate change policy. In these circumstances, it’s understandable why Winnipeg’s interviewees value PCP membership as a way of giving climate change an air of legitimacy. There is a sense that the city might not have progressed as far as it has without PCP’s “steering” support. Toronto, on the other hand, by-passed PCP, acted as an independent agent, and, with abundant staffing and funding resources and a strong level of commitment, has made rapid progress on the climate change issue.

The PCP city-network appears not to be a “network of pioneers for pioneers” but a “network of baby steps for beginners.” The reasons for this lamentable result are not clear. One suggestion is that the extent to which network pathways are used depends on the existence of local leadership, jurisdictional authority and bureaucratic capacity, recognition of potential local benefits, and political will. Another possible explanation is an inability to fully utilize the experience of head-of-the-pack members such as Toronto. As well, PCP has no authority to prompt, cajole, or provide extra support for laggard municipalities. One interviewee may have hit the nail on the head: “What is lacking is the time to network the network.” And PCP’s capacity to engage in “steering” activities is severely limited: “In the early days . . . we had 2 people and 30 municipalities, now we have [half a person-year] and a lot more [members]”.

Engagement with PCP is strongest at the early stages as members prepare local inventories, select targets, and prepare local action plans. Barely 7% of members have moved beyond milestone three, preparation of a local climate action plan. A mere 1% has attained milestone five. Compare this with the Australian CCP network where 56% of members have completed milestone five.

Although Winnipeg has been a member of PCP since its inception in 1998, this early commitment did not translate into quick, nor aggressive, climate change policy action. When compared to Toronto, Winnipeg as a mid-sized Canadian city (population, 675,100 in 2009) has had weaker levels of political will, struggled through to the early years of the 2000’s to institutionalize engagement with climate change, and has had more limited access to financial and logistical resources. Winnipeg has not lived up to expectations that it would be an exemplar of PCP’s ability to exert influence in conditions that were unlikely to be favourable.

As a relatively new entrant into the climate change arena, PCP has been severely constrained by the lack of federal interest in municipalities. In response to a question to an FCM representative to push for greater federal support for the PCP program, the blunt answer was “when we send our people out . . . to talk to MPs . . . this just isn’t one of the things that we’re going to push.” The experience of PCP is part of a broader North-American reality — sub- and non-state players are operating in a context of federal government apathy and inaction.

To summarize

Based on the empirical evidence from the case studies of Winnipeg and Toronto, PCP appears to have the greatest relevance for mid- and small-sized cities, which need the “steering” support to develop and implement a climate change action plan. Lamentably, in order to get buy-in from these municipalities, PCP has had to water down its expectations to the point where the action plans may be too little, too late.


The study cited in this post is a 29-page revision of Gordon’s original 168-page MA thesis published under the same title in 2009. For more information about the availability of this dissertation, go to ProQuest’s Dissertations & Theses website. Gordon is currently a PhD student at the University of Toronto.

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