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Municipal climate leadership in Canada: the role of leadership in the expansion of municipal climate action

Lauren Touchant (Centre on Governance & Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 11 October 2022

Issue publication date: 24 May 2023




The purpose of this empirical case study is to study and explain the role of public leadership in the expansion of municipal climate action in Canada.


In 2017 and 2018, the authors conducted13 semi-directed interviews with municipal staff and elected officials from three municipalities, a documentary analysis of primary and secondary sources. Interviews and documentation collected were also coded using the software NVIVO 12. The authors compared three municipal case studies: the City of Toronto (Ontario), the City of Guelph (Ontario), and the Town of Bridgewater (Nova Scotia).


The authors found that leadership is a prominent factor explaining the expansion of municipal climate action in Canada. Municipal climate action is initiated and championed by an individual, elected officials or municipal staff, who lead and engage in the development of policy instruments to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. These leaders facilitate the formulation and implementation of instruments, encourage a paradigm shift within the municipality, overcome structural and behavioural barriers, and foster collaboration around a common vision. Optimal municipal climate leadership occurs when the leadership of elected officials and municipal is congruent, though networks play a significant role by amplifying municipal sustainability leadership. They support staff and elected officials leadership within municipalities, provide more information and funding to grow the capacity of municipalities to develop instruments, to the point that conditions under which municipalities are driving climate action are changing.

Research limitations/implications

This paper hopes to contribute to better understand under what conditions municipalities drive change.


There is an international scholarly recognition that municipalities should be further explored and considered important actors in the Canadian and international climate change governance. Gore (2010) and Robinson and Gore (2015) highlighted that we are yet to understand the extent to which municipalities are involved in climate governance in Canada. This article directly addresses this gap in the current scholarly literature and explores the expansion of climate municipal leadership with the aspects of interviews.



Funding: This research was made possible because of the support of the Vanier Scholarship (2016-2019).


Touchant, L. (2023), "Municipal climate leadership in Canada: the role of leadership in the expansion of municipal climate action", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 97-115.



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