Climate change impacts, like flooding and extreme heat, are made more severe by the loss of nature and greenspace. To build resilience to climate change in cities and beyond, we need to protect and harness the power of nature. Green infrastructure is a tool to do this.
Introduction to Green Infrastructure
Green infrastructure (GI) is, or uses, nature (e.g. trees, plants, soils) or natural processes (e.g. water infiltration) to deliver infrastructural and community services. Green Infrastructure includes naturally-occurring ecosystems (e.g. forests, wetlands and grasslands), re-naturalized systems (e.g. constructed wetlands, planted street trees), and enhanced or engineered systems (e.g. green roofs, bioswales, permeable pavements). Unlike traditional ‘grey’ infrastructure (e.g. cement, drains, treatment plants), which typically provides a single service or benefit, green infrastructure provides a number of ‘co-benefits’ — other social, environmental and economic benefits that support community and environmental wellbeing (see our recent blog post on co-benefits provided by GI). It is also typically more cost-effective to implement than grey infrastructure.
Here at Green Communities Canada, we use the term ‘Green infrastructure’ to describe all infrastructure that is, or uses, nature and natural processes to deliver services. The Government of Canada has opted to use the terms ‘natural infrastructure’ to describe assets that are naturally-occurring or naturalized, and ‘hybrid infrastructure’ to describe engineered GI.
Background of the Fund
In their first ‘post-COVID’ budget in 2021, Infrastructure Canada announced the new Natural Infrastructure Fund (NIF), a $200 million fund that encourages the development of green infrastructure projects across the country. The fund was implemented in response to advocacy efforts, including advocacy that Green Communities Canada participated in.
When it was first launched, the Natural Infrastructure Fund only accepted applications to the Large Project Stream, where select major cities were invited to apply for up to $20 million to support their proposed natural infrastructure projects.
In July 2022, the federal government announced the Small Projects Stream of the NIF in an open call to communities across the country. Applicants have until 3PM ET on September 27, 2022 to apply for the fund.
Who Can Apply?
The Small Projects Stream, unlike the Large Project Stream, welcomes applications from a wider range of groups, including:
- Municipalities/local governments;
- Provinces and territories;
- Public sector bodies;
- Indigenous organizations;
- Not-for-profit organizations; and
- For-profit organizations, only when in partnership with a group outside of the private sector.
These groups can apply for up to $1 million from the $80 million funding pool. In addition, a minimum of 10 percent of the overall program funding will be allocated to Indigenous-led projects.
What are the Application Criteria?
Eligible applicants can use the Small Projects Stream to fund any projects that create, expand, restore, improve, or enhance ‘natural or hybrid infrastructure’ that offer benefits to the public. Projects must:
1) use natural or hybrid infrastructure to deliver these benefits (Criteria 1), and
2) fulfill the community service(s) (Criteria 2).
Potential natural or hybrid infrastructure projects (Criteria 1) must fall under one of the four categories:
- Plant or restore green space;
- Construct or restore naturalized water retention or detention systems;
- Create naturalized water diversion or infiltration; and/or
- Establish projects that improve biodiversity and connection.
The fund will also support infrastructure that improves human access to nature, (e.g., creation of new trails, benches, signage) but only if these methods are connected to broader project goals.
To fulfill the community service criteria (Criteria 2), project proposals must fall under at least one of the community service categories. These categories are:
1.Climate change resilience
This includes any project that provides the tools necessary to resist, absorb, accommodate, respond to, and recover from climate dangers quickly and effectively. For example, the projects can prioritize erosion prevention, temperature regulation, or flood protection.
2. Environmental quality
This includes any project that provides communities with environmental benefits (e.g. clean air, clean water). These projects will prioritize wastewater treatment, stormwater diversion, and more.
3. Access to nature
This includes any project that creates new, or improved blue or green spaces for the public. These projects include the creation of green spaces, and the development of infrastructure to support active transportation.
4. Biodiversity and habitat services
This includes any project that improves the function, quality, or processes of ecosystems, thereby improving the area’s biodiversity. These projects aim to improve ecological integrity and reduce the quantity of invasive species.
5. Climate change mitigation services
This includes any project that aims to limit the production of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) by reducing our reliance on carbon emitting processes. This can be done through carbon sequestration projects.
What are the Types of Funding?
All successful applications will be funded as either a Grant Agreement, or as a Contribution Agreement.
1. Grant Agreements
Grant Agreements will be created for any projects with a total cost between $30,000 and up to $250,000. To qualify as a Grant Agreement, the project must fulfill the three criteria below:
- Addresses a minimum of one community service listed above;
- Proves project readiness; and
- Provides additional economic benefits.
2. Contribution Agreements
Contribution Agreements will be created for any projects with a total cost between $250,000 and up to $3 million. Projects will only receive a maximum of $1 million, therefore, financing may also be received through other partners. If the project falls under this category, the applicant must ensure that it fulfils the six criteria below:
- Addresses a minimum of two community services;
- Proves project readiness;
- Provide additional economic benefits;
- Showcases an identified need and priority;
- Encourages social inclusion; and
- Creates an impact on climate change concerns.
Applications submitted by Indigenous-led groups do not need to show project readiness or social inclusion.
How Can You Apply?
First, ensure that your organization, municipality, or group is eligible to apply for the Fund. Additional eligibility details can be found at the Small Projects Stream Applicant Guide. Once you have confirmed eligibility, fill out the Infrastructure Canada Program Registration Form to gain access to the Application Portal. The application can be saved and continued at a later time but must be submitted by 27 September 2022, at 3PM ET. If you have any additional questions or concerns, visit the website or attend one of the upcoming webinars.
It’s Time to Apply!
The Natural Infrastructure Fund is a major step from Infrastructure Canada to help mobilize not-for-profit organizations, municipalities, and Indigenous-led organizations to implement green infrastructure in their communities. GCC encourages all eligible applicants to apply, and to join the movement towards and investment into more nature-rich, climate- resilient communities across Canada!
Written with significant contributions from Christine Mettler.