After 27 successful years of climate work in Toronto, the Province of Ontario provided The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) with $17-million to expand our mandate and serve communities across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). However, the new role didn’t come with a briefing binder, and we knew that we had a lot to learn in order to most effectively support climate action in the region. While the expansion was new to us, we were hopeful that our experience and toolbox to reduce urban carbon emissions – impact investing, grantmaking, demonstration projects, policy advocacy and more – were transferable to the regional context.

So we decided to get some help to devise a road map to guide our regional activities. With the help of Dunsky Energy Consulting and the Clean Air Partnership, we undertook a year-long research process in order to learn from the local experts and practitioners, hear about the existing carbon reduction initiatives in the region, and find the best opportunities to deploy low-carbon solutions at scale. Through this process, we engaged a diverse range of local practitioners from organizations including municipalities, environmental non-profits, utilities, academic institutions, business associations, and transit agencies.

Our research involved:

  • A global scan of regional collaboration best practices, involving research and interviews with seven regional metropolitan areas and cities.
  • In-depth interviews with 20 key community practitioners and thought leaders from across the region;
  • Four focus group sessions in Burlington, Vaughan, Pickering, and Toronto, involving a total of 53 practitioners who helped to corroborate and refine our strategic directions.

Compiled by Dunsky Energy Consulting, the results are summarized in a report titled “Greenhouse Gas Reduction – Action and Opportunity in the GTHA”. The findings shaped our understanding of how TAF can its best support carbon emission reduction opportunities in the GTHA.

Three overarching themes emerged:

  1. Connect with Stakeholders

We need to build more awareness of TAF’s mandate, successes, and available resources and programming, while establishing key partnerships to broaden TAF’s presence in the region. To advance regional support for climate action, TAF will also identify co-benefits (such as health, local jobs) and help to establish links between community priorities, local issues, and climate change.

  1. Strengthen Capacity in the Region

Our research found a capacity gap in the region, especially when it comes to funding, expertise, human resources. Yet our international research showed that these factors are particularly important to the success of local and regional initiatives. TAF just launched a new Social Innovation Skills Building Fund to help address capacity constraints and will continue to support local grantseekers through additional resources, tools, and connections.

  1. Plant Seeds for a Regional Network

We found that a network of regional actors, a structure that facilitates planning, coordinated action, and knowledge transfer, is key to structural change and emission reductions over time. To this end, we will spark initial conversations about region-wide emission reduction efforts. We will also accelerate the transfer of knowledge and exchange of best practices across the GTHA.

This report provides the necessary context and actionable recommendations to support our mandate of accelerating GTHA-wide carbon reductions. We thank the numerous community leaders and local practitioners from around the region who contributed their time, insights and expertise to help shape TAF’s regional strategy.

While we’ve learned a lot about the regional climate landscape over the past year, we recognize that there’s still a lot more to learn. There’s no substitute for local knowledge, and we will keep listening to and learning from our new regional allies while continuing to build trusting relationships. TAF staff have planned trips across the GTHA to meet with potential grantseekers and will attend local events and regional events to gain further insights on community needs and priorities.

Please reach out if you want to explore opportunities to collaborate or chat further about TAF’s ongoing work in the region. You can contact Diana at dyoon@taf.ca.