Consideration of Climate Change Adaptation in the Regional Land Use and Development Plan of the Montreal Agglomeration

The Observatoire Québécois de l’adaptation aux changements climatiques (OQACC) at Université Laval; the Ouranos consortium; and the Sustainable Solutions Lab at University at Massachusetts Boston developed six case studies. This project was supported by Natural Resources Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Program and the Government of Québec as part of the Québec Research Funds and the 2030 Plan for a Green Economy. These case studies identified factors that motivate jurisdictions to develop specific policy instruments in response to climate change, as well as others that facilitate their implementation and promote their positive outcomes.

This present case study, developed by OQACC, focused on the Montréal Agglomeration’s regional plan (Schéma d’aménagement et de développement [SAD]). The revised regional plan, in effect since April 2015, includes a section on climate change adaptation and the impacts related to increasingly intense heat and abundant rain events. Regional plans are planning and intention documents provided for in Quebec’s Act Respecting Land Use Planning Development (ALUPD) for the regional level. These regional plans must enable regional county municipalities (RCMs), as well as some cities and agglomerations, to coordinate choices and decision regarding land use on their territory around a vision of sustainable development.

The results of this case study, pertaining to the Montréal Agglomeration, show that regional land use and development plans are valid tools for encouraging climate change adaptation at regional and local levels. These plans help to establish a strategic vision of development and objectives related to climate change adaptation and identify means to attain them. Local planning programs and bylaws must be made to comply with the objectives and provisions contained in the regional plan. Nonetheless, urban planning bylaws allow control only over new developments, constructions, and transformations. To intervene in what is already developed or built, complementary measures are needed.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Among the factors that motivated the Montréal Agglomeration to include climate change in its regional plan are public health issues related to episodes of extreme heat and sewer backup and overflow, exacerbated by increasingly abundant rains. Requirements from various levels of government, as well as demands or pressure from citizens and elected representatives also contributed to this motivation.

In 2015, the City of Montreal produced a climate change adaptation plan. Climate projections provided by Ouranos were used to identify climate impacts the agglomeration of Montreal is expected to experience by 2050 and 2070. Among these impacts were an increase in average annual temperatures, increased intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall and destructive storms, increased frequency and duration of heatwaves and drought, and increased occurrence of spring flooding.

Identifying Actions

Regional land use and development plans are planning instruments that are required on the part of the RCMs. They are also mandatory for the cities and agglomerations that have RCM jurisdiction over land-use planning, as is the case for the Montréal Agglomeration. Furthermore, the two metropolitan communities in Québec, which comprise the cities of Québec and Montréal, are obliged to create a metropolitan land use and development plan (Plan métropolitain d’aménagement et de développement [PMAD]). For their part, local municipalities must develop and implement land use plans and bylaws.

To better understand how RCMs can utilize regional land use and development plans to meet their adaptation goals, the OQACC project team worked with the City of Montreal’s Office of Ecological Transition and Resilience and Ouranos and conducted interviews and discussions with advisors from a number of City departments including Urban Planning and Mobility; Department of Large Parks, Mount-Royal and Sports; Water Works; and Ecological Transition and Resilience. The team also interviewed an advisor from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. In addition to these interviews and discussions, the OQACC project teams studied the regional plan and additional documents to corroborate and complement the participants’ accounts.

The questions asked during the interviews and discussions aimed at highlighting the determinants in the consideration of climate change effects within the regional plan, in the choice of measures and provisions, as well as the factors that influence the effects of the regional plan on adaptation. The interview questions and the data analysis focused on the factors that motivated the consideration of climate change adaptation in the regional plan as well as to the factors having favoured or impeded their implementation and outcomes.


The metropolitan, regional, and local plans (see figure below) must be standardized between them as well as the Government of Québec’s strategic directions in terms of land use, environmental and emergency planning. The regional and metropolitan plans must present the strategic vision of development, strategic land use directions and broad land use designations for their territories. They must also identify zones where land occupation is subject to constraints for public safety reasons (e.g., landslide zones, coastal erosion or submersion zones) or environmental protection purposes (e.g., areas targeted by the Protection Policy for Lakeshores, Riverbanks, Littoral Zones and Floodplains).

Interventions identified by the RCM relevant to climate change adaptation include:

  • Preparation of a climate change adaptation plan
  • Implementation of the Canopy action plan
  • Development of a protection and enhancement plan
  • Development of conservation plans for the natural environment
  • Contribute to updating the agglomeration’s various strategic plans concerning large parks, natural environments, greening, the blue network, as well as sports and cultural equipment, in accordance with the green and blue belt
  • Continue working to obtain humanized landscape status from the Government of Québec
  • Develop an action and funding plan to implement the green and blue belt

One of the important influencing mechanisms in the regional plans is the planning programs and bylaws. They influence the granting of permits by the boroughs and linked cities, which will in turn influence owners, builders and real-estate developers. However, in virtue of the ALUPD, urban planning bylaws cannot be applied retroactively. They concern only new constructions and modifications to already existing ones. They do not confer any control over what is already developed or built.

M.A. Planning Jurisdiction

Metropolitan, regional, and local planning jurisdiction in the Montreal Agglomeration

Image of a sustainable urban rainwater management project in the City of Vancouver. The schematic includes incorporation of greenscaping as a way of not only beautifying the streetscape, but also to provide functional purposes such as rainwater management and small areas of habitat refugia. The image shows the integration of sustainable design with climate adaptation actions. Specific foci are on the inclusion of more city street trees, native plants, areas for pollinators, rain gardens, and the creation of common spaces for gathering.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

This case study showed that regional land use and development plans are valid tools to encourage climate change adaptation, notably by expressing a strategic vision and clear directions in this regard. If the ALUPD, or government guidelines with provisions related to climate change adaptation, made it mandatory to consider climate change in the regional plans, other agglomerations, cities and RCMs could be brought to carry out this exercise. The 2030 Plan for a Green Economy mentions that the instruments guiding land use planning may be revised to promote the role played by this activity in adapting to climate change.

Redevelopment and transformation projects provide opportunities for adaptation because they make it possible to apply, in new constructions, the regulation in effect concerning the fight against heat islands, greening and runoff water management. However, regulatory measures can weigh down municipal approval processes and increase costs for developers, who may then prefer to establish their projects somewhere else where the bylaws are less constraining.

Regulatory influence is not the only action mechanism in the regional plan. Going through the exercise of planning strategically and identifying measures helps to reinforce the synergy between the municipalities and between the various departments involved.

Among the factors that favoured efficient consideration of adaptation in the Montréal Agglomeration’s regional plan is human resources. Having motivated, competent people on the regional plan-development team enabled the agglomeration to identify means to encourage regional- and local-level adaptation. It should be noted that people who steered the regional plan revision and the consideration of climate change effects are City of Montréal employees, not external consultants.

Next Steps

Through a number of pilot projects concerning the greening and conservation of natural environments, heat islands, water management, flood prevention, and equity, knowledge has evolved in recent years on how to install green infrastructures and develop ecological neighbourhoods in brownfields. Their transformation, just like that of low-density neighbourhoods, is an interesting avenue to enable the City to develop while preserving existing natural environments.

A partnership between the City of Montréal and Ouranos began in 2017 and was renewed in 2020. It contributes to the knowledge needed to further specify the adaptation measures to be implemented by the actors of the agglomeration. The purpose of this partnership is notably to link research efforts to the City’s needs, share the expertise, encourage the dissemination of knowledge and data, as well as implement integrated adaptation research and development initiatives. The partnership constitutes a forum for reflection on the many issues related to adaptation to climate change and action on the scale of the Montréal agglomeration; privileged access to climate knowledge and its integration into the city’s policies, tools and practices; a lever for building bridges between research and practice; an opportunity to develop knowledge in the area of climate adaptation and to bring about a change in practices while fostering innovation.

A Université de Montréal project mentioned in the regional plan as an opportunity for brownfield developments, which has since been named MIL campus, has allowed the City to conduct a pilot project in collaboration with the Université and the surrounding boroughs. This project, built on the former Outremont classification yard, incorporates green spaces and a rainwater collection system. Other ecological neighbourhood projects are being planned on brownfields.

The project team identified a number or recommendation the next time the regional plan is revised, including:

  • Constraint mapping related to topography and natural drainage
  • Provisions to preserve and enhance the role of street drainage
  • Provisions to develop floodable parks
  • Provisions for the use of green infrastructure, notably paired with road repair projects
  • Provisions that would act in compliment with the City’s Bylaw to reduce roof runoff
  • Provisions concerning the installation of parking lots
  • A more constraining provision for the conservation of mosaics of natural environments