Toronto’s Role in Climate Governance and Sustainability: 5 Takeaways From EGL’s Conversation with David Miller

Co-sponsored by the School of Cities, The Environmental Governance Lab hosted its first “In Conversation With” seminar earlier last month with former Toronto Mayor and current C40 Regional Director for North America, David Miller, on the role Toronto plays in the global climate and sustainability predicament.

The new EGL series aims to bring together academics, speakers, and the public for conversations on key climate change and sustainability issues.

In a packed room on Friday evening, Sara Hughes, Assistant Professor of Political Science and a faculty affiliate of the Environmental Governance Lab, led the conversation with Mr. Miller interview style, raising topics like Toronto’s role in climate governance post-election and the role that cities more broadly play when it comes to climate and sustainability.



Here are 5 key points from EGL’s conversation with David Miller:

The role of cities is becoming increasingly important, and initiatives like the C40 provide a forum for cities to come together and share what action they’re taking.

With new and ever-urgent warnings about climate change (learn more here) the role of all actors, including cities, is becoming more important. According to Miller, initiatives like the C40 allow cities a platform to share and engage in climate governance and sustainability actions. Cities matter because they play a critical role in many climate change-related policy areas including transportation, energy, and waste, all of which contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This graphic from The Atmospheric Fund breaks down Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions:


As Miller notes below, the voices of mayors of megacities can have huge impacts nationally and internationally.


  1. While Toronto has led and continues to lead on the climate, community engagement is needed after the provincial and municipal elections.

Following the election of Doug Ford this year, Miller worries what the new, reduced council member numbers could mean for the prioritization of issues like climate change and sustainability. He argues, however, that communities play a critical role in what comes to the forefront of the agenda.


“We can solve climate change today, but we lack only the political will”


Citing his experience with TransformTO (Toronto’s climate strategy), Miller argues that funds can be provided if people speak out and take action. The former Mayor is also certain that in a city like Toronto, climate governance and sustainability are important voter issues, and that Toronto will rise to the occasion in implementing a robust climate action plan for the future, as well.

Listen here:



  1. Toronto’s role as a city actor is constrained by the roles that the federal and provincial government plays, and this presents a unique governance challenge.

Questioned about the complexities that arise when cities are limited by federal and provincial government roles, Miller argues that cities can still act on real and practical goals that involve their own communities. For example, cities administering public housing can work to implement energy-saving heating systems, which are both climate-friendly and cost-reductive for the residents in these homes.

He further stresses the importance of rapid transit lines, libraries, and recreation centers in addressing climate change and sustainability issues. As he notes, the federal government plays an important but not singular role in climate governance.


  1. On the global stage, the role of cities, states, and provinces is much more complicated, and each comes with its own challenges.

Departing from local issues, Miller notes the complexities that come with addressing climate change and sustainability outside of Canada as well. Here is his look at how the states approach climate governance:


In sum, there is no perfect formula for every city because each city’s governance faces unique challenges. It’s important that cities set robust climate agendas and forge their own pathways to decarbonization.

Learn more about the c40


  1. Climate change is as much an equity and social justice issue as it is an environmental issue—we need to address it as such.

Citing the inherent inequity in the climate change issue, Miller argues we can and should approach its governance as such as well. Especially in Toronto, by incorporating programs for low-income neighborhoods and investing in Toronto’s transportation system by way of a rapid transit line, we address multiple issues and integrate climate governance into the city’s main policy agenda. Listen to Miller’s take on what the city can do to respond to inequality while also addressing the climate:


Watch the full conversation below