Trent M.A. Sustainability student, Mohammed Abdulai—on an internship jointly funded by the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship program and the City of Peterborough—interviewed municipal workers from across Ontario to learn about how they’re assessing the climate impacts of their programs. To meet emissions targets, many Ontario municipalities have added formal climate change frameworks to their decision-making processes. That means considering climate impacts when making decisions about any municipal program or activity, be it related to human resources, finance, transport, housing, or social services. Mohammed presented his findings to the Peterborough environmental advisory committee, which is made up of both council members and Peterborough citizens, including some representatives from Trent.
Mohammed was able to provide sustainability expertise thanks to the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship, which provides the opportunity to students to receive new training and career opportunities by putting their schooling to work. Trent students, with help from a supervising professor and partner organization, can apply to receive $10,000 or $15,000 in Mitacs and partner support for a four-month internship. While the benefit to students is obvious—applying skills outside of school, networking, adding the experience to their resume—benefits to the organization, and often the community they serve, can be just as great.
“The Mitacs internship gave Mohammed a rewarding work-integrated learning experience. We co-designed a project with the City of Peterborough to advance their innovation activities in addressing climate change in practical ways, helping them improve their work processes and services. Throughout the internship, he was able to advance his own professional development, further collaboration and knowledge transfer between Trent and the municipality, and strengthen their innovation capabilities. Mohammed successfully crafted new ideas and meaningful recommendations that can make a difference”, said his supervisor and director of the Sustainability Studies program, Dr. Asaf Zohar.
Municipal climate change practices around Ontario
Mohammed gained a uniquely broad perspective on municipal climate action by surveying cities and towns around Ontario to see how they are incorporating climate change considerations into their everyday operations.
“When you look at what is happening across the municipalities, they are all working at a qualitative level. Does this program have climate change implications? If yes, then you go ahead and describe the kind of impact and preferred solutions. But I think they are missing an important aspect—the quantitative part—which is useful for external stakeholders, like the public, to see evidence of how a city is mitigating their greenhouse gas emissions,” Mohammed explained. “If a municipality has a carbon budget, with a limit on how much greenhouse gas they want to emit, they need to compare what they have emitted against what they budgeted for. And then we can see whether we're on track in achieving the targets we've set for ourselves.”
The only municipality Mohammed found quantifying their carbon emissions was the City of Brantford, and only in the public works and community housing departments. But Brantford has found enough success using quantitative methods that they expect to expand this practice to other departments. Brantford’s success in quantifying its carbon emissions was a finding Mohammed was particularly excited about presenting to the Peterborough’s environmental advisory committee.
“It’s a useful collaboration between the municipality, Mitacs, and the university,” said Mohammed. “Most of the municipalities do not have the human resources they need in their climate change and sustainability departments. Almost all the municipalities I interviewed have just one person working on sustainability. And the work is overwhelming—they are trying to catch up with the policy. Targets have been set to be achieved by 2030, which is only seven years away.”
Learn more about Trent’s Master of Arts in Sustainability Studies.