Committee Report

As expected Environment Committee of the City of Ottawa “received” the outcome documents of Choosing Our Future yesterday. Hence full City Council will “receive” them today and they’ll become official city documents.

The meeting seemed to me simultaneously important and meaningless.

It was important because it brought forward these planning documents which at the moment appear to be our best (perhaps only) path forward to reducing climate change contributions in Ottawa.

It was important in that it brought forward a number of stellar interveners who spoke passionately in support of the plans:

  • Dr. John Stone, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for his role as a Lead Author on the fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (his comments reproduced below)
  • Chris Henderson, founder of Lumos Energy and the Delphi Group plus numerous other roles including advisor to Canada’s Commissioner for the Environment.
  • Bill Pugsley, former DG Meteorology and Oceanography at DND and former Director of Scientific Program Development at Environment Canada’s Canadian Climate Centre plus member of the City’s Environmental Advisory Committee. (his comments below)
  • Graham Saul, Chair of Ecology Ottawa and former Director of Climate Action Network Canada. (his comments below)

It seemed meaningless because, in the words of several people I’ve talked to, “Council has no appetite” for dealing with climate change. This was evident at yesterday’s meeting in several respects beyond the rush-it-through concerns I expressed in yesterday’s post.

  • Both the Committee Chair Councillor Maria McRae and Deputy City Manager Nancy Schepers repeatedly (very repeatedly) noted that these documents were only a framework and that they didn’t commit the city to actually do anything; they aren’t plans. (Though the word plan appears on their covers and on the agenda item for this meeting)
  • Councillor Allan Hubley seemed to feel that Choosing Our Future had been a waste of a million bucks and sought assurances that no more money was going to be spent on it. Somehow, everything the City is supposed to be doing along these lines, it is already doing.
  • Committee members were hardly glued to their seats for this critically important initiative. The meeting risked losing quorum at any moment as Councillors wandered around the room talking to other people and sometimes left for a few moments or for the day.

At least Councillor Diane Holmes and David Chernushenko spoke up to support the plans. Perhaps others who remained silent also felt the initiative important, but no one contradicted me when I closed my own presentation to Committee by saying I had the feeling that the City didn’t have much interest in having allies to progress the efforts on climate change.


Once again, I urge you to tell your Councillor and tell the Mayor that you see these plans as important and want to see them put into action.

UPDATE on the disbanding of the City department responsible for the report.

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6 Responses to Committee Report

  1. Charles says:

    I’ll post the text of the comments made to Committee by the luminaries noted above. Here’s what Graham Saul said:

    My name is Graham Saul and I am the Chair of the Steering Committee of Ecology Ottawa.

    Ecology Ottawa is a grassroots environmental organization that is working to promote environmental leadership in the City of Ottawa. We have almost 6,000 supporters who receive our electronic newsletter, over 2000 individual donors across the city, and over 400 volunteers.

    You have a lot of material before you today, and it was a lot of material to ask people to get through in a short time, but I did manage to get through it all.

    If I understand correctly, among many other things, you are saying that:

    • You want to build more compact and complete communities by encouraging intensification around rapid transit, retrofiting the suburbs and protecting the integrity of rural areas.

    • You want to invest in cycling, transit and walking infrastructure and promoting electric vehicles.

    • and you want to encourage high performance buildings by strengthening retrofit opportunities; improving energy performance of new buildings; and promoting small and large-scale renewable energy.

    • You are also proposing to protect and restore greenspaces and natural systems, attract cutting edge green businesses, and better manage waste by focusing on reducing waste generation as a first priority; aggressively diverting residential waste, and increasing the role of municipalities in the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) sector.

    • And finally, you want to support local food and agriculture by protecting agricultural land, supporting new farmers and helping to make sure that everyone has enough nutritious food to eat.

    In these documents you have identified more than 100 specific actions that the City of Ottawa can take to move these goals forward.

    And what these plans tell us is that if you did aggressively embrace this vision and start adopting these measure, your best modelling shows that you would be saving the people of Ottawa billions of dollars a year in energy costs, reducing Ottawa’s greenhouse gas emissions for the first time in history, improving the quality of our communities, and simultaneously building a more healthy city that is better position to deal with potential emergencies.

    So what is Ecology Ottawa’s response to these plans?
    First, we want to congratulate the Committee for coming up with a meaningful vision and a comprehensive list of ways to move it forward.
    • This is the kind of vision that people across this city are looking for.
    • This is the kind of vision that will make people enthusiastic about being involved in the life of their city.
    • It is the kind of vision that will make people even more proud to be a resident of the city of Ottawa.

    If you decide to embrace this vision and move it forward aggressively, we will do everything we can to rally around it.

    Second, you have spent four years and hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars coming up with these plans, and it would be a tragedy if they were just put on a shelf and forgotten.
    • It would be a tragedy because these plans deal with real problems and suggest concrete ways that we can solve them.
    • It would be a tragedy because these plans present a vision that, if fully embraced, would help restore people’s belief in the idea that our cities can be drivers of innovation and visionary leadership.
    • And finally, it would be a tragedy because, if these plans are forgotten, they will feed a very high degree of cynicism that is already out there that these kinds of initiatives and planning processes led by city hall are a waste of time, energy and money.

    Instead of reinvigorating people’s engagement with the city, letting these plans languish into obscurity will only alienate a wide range of people that care very deeply about their home, community and city.

    While Ecology Ottawa has a number of specific concerns, such as the long-range greenhouse gas reduction targets, our main question to Council is: How can we help move this vision forward?

    Not only that, but how can community associations and businesses help move this forward?

    Finally, there doesn’t seem to be much detail in terms concrete next steps, and a lot of the people that I spoke to were concerned about the short amount of time that was provided to digest 300 pages of documents. They were worried that this short time is a signal that you aren’t really planning to take these documents seriously.

    So our second question is: What is City Hall’s plan for ensuring that these strategies are implemented?

    We think you have an opportunity here, we want to help if you are interested in walking down this path, and we hope you will see that aggressively implementing these plans is a major opportunity.

    Thank you.

  2. Charles says:

    Here’s what Bill Pugsley had to say:

    By way of introducing myself to members of the Committee who don’t know me, you have before you a meteorologist, with extensive executive experience in developing and implementing strategic environmental plans, such as the first Canadian Climate Program in 1984. As a Director General with DND, I directed weather support for hundreds of vehicles and aircraft on military missions across Canada and on peacekeeping missions abroad. For the last 8 years, with one year off in 2009, I have chaired a working group of the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee focused on air pollution health issues and advised the City on its Management Plan for Air Quality and Climate Change in 2007, the idling control bylaw and on its air quality monitoring system. I also participated directly in early planning workshops of the Choosing Our Future project, conducted by the two cities and the NCC, for which I congratulate all three partners for engaging the public.

    I’d like to make several comments about the energy and emissions plan that is part of today’s discussion. I do this as an individual, not on behalf of the Environmental Advisory Committee because it was not consulted in advance, as was the case for the previous Plan, so there was no opportunity to obtain prior approval by members for an EAC position on this framework.

    A few high level comments

    a) the decision to include all three interconnected jurisdictions, Ottawa, Gatineau and the NCC, in a broad and complicated plan like this is a big challenge but worth doing, especially if we end up with specific targets and milestones to achieve the goals laid out. The plan does well in identifying targets for 2060 for buildings, energy, transportation and waste, through an assessment of Best Practices. But we do not have – and this is the difficult part- any idea of when and where they will be implemented, other than by jurisdiction. The next step, obviously, is to see if each city and the federal government will take steps to approve short, medium and long range goals to meet the 40% reduction by 2060 and would urge that the long range target be raised to 80% to keeppace with climate science.

    b) One aspect I’d like to comment on is transportation, as most of my career has had to do with operational support and strategic planning and associated climate change plans for that sector. The plan correctly identifies transportation as large and growing quickly, so it seems logical to look at how to reduce emissions here first.

    c) Let’s look at the Light Rail system to come in 2018 with an estimated cost of over $2B. The earlier North-South LRT plan would have reduced the commuting by about 2,400 vehicles and I assume that the new LRT plan would have the same magnitude. The problem here is that the population is growing with a need for more cars and this could easily exceed the expected shift to transit. If we are going to achieve meaningful and substantial reductions in emissions, we have to look at ways of influencing the 7 out of 10 drivers who commute to work each day across our city. It is not enough to offer more accessible transit. Steps have to be taken to actively encourage the shift to transit. If that can be done in a way that also offers choices and achieves reduction in the other harmful pollutants that are emitted by vehicles, so much the better.

    d) One aspect that does not seem to be included in the documents today is the use of economic incentives or tools which can produce early and significant results, while providing a direct benefit to the user. We are familiar with Hydro Ottawa’s offering discounts of 50% or more at night and over weekends. This also shifts demand away from peak hours so that less investment is needed for expanded infrastructure. In San Francisco, parking rates are changed in response to demand and at a level that guarantees that drivers can be sure of finding a space at any time and will achieve savings if they park during periods of low demand. This has the main effect of reducing the number of cars cruising for a parking space which can be as much as 40-50% of the congestion we see downtown and improved air quality. Revenue is directed back to projects that directly benefit the community.

    In closing, I’d like to summarize two main points

    a) Work needs to start on action plans to implement measures that would achieve the goals in the Energy and Emissions plan. The City is encouraged to involve and use the expertise available in the public at large and on its advisory committees in these plans, as it has in the past, which has shown benefits in the quality of the plans produced

    b) In order to achieve early reductions in emissions, emerging technology and recent progress in pricing peak demand show significant results, in terms of reduced pollution and new revenue sources to pay for cleaner alternative modes of travel. The City should look at economic instruments more closely

    Speaking for myself, I would be more than willing to assist the City in the development of an action plan and am sure my colleagues on EAC would too.

  3. Charles says:

    Dr. John Stone’s comments:

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon. I would like to spend my time quickly reviewing the threat of climate change from my perspective of having being involved in the issue for more than 20 years. In brief, climate change and development planning for the City of Ottawa have to be seen as inherently intertwined. Wise development plans can help to tackle the threat of climate change and inversely ignoring the implications of climate change can undermine your development plans. I am hoping my brief remarks will encourage you to put into action this set of plans: Choosing our Future.

    With the completion in 2007 of the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we have effectively drawn a line under the scientific debate on climate change. In the words of that Report, global warming of the climate system is now unambiguous. The Report also concludes that it is very likely, which is about as strong a statement that science can make, that the causes are human actions, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests. These actions contribute to ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As a result, concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere are now greater than they have been for almost a million years. We have taken the atmosphere into uncharted territory. Well known physics, that has been rigorously tested, tells us that this will alter the climate. We may not be able to predict exactly how the climate will change and where it will be felt more acutely. However, we know enough to realise that change it will. The threat of climate change is real.

    We have evidence that changes in the climate are happening already. Global temperatures increases are now outside the range of natural variability and, more worryingly, these increases seem to be accelerating. We are seeing increases in the frequency and severity of extreme events such as heat-waves and floods and can attribute their occurrence to climate change. We have seen significant declines in the extent of sea-ice in the Arctic and of the ice-sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

    Further changes are inevitable because the climate has a memory. The most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for a thousand years. The heat that is being stored in the oceans will stay there for millennia. In addition, it will take decades to replace the technologies that are currently responsible for our emissions. As a result temperatures will continue to rise no matter what we do in the short term. We are on a path to an increase in temperature in this century that is three or four time greater than it was in the last one hundred years. And some of the temperature increases might be effectively irreversible within human timeframes. Thus, we have already written part of our history. The longer we delay in taking action the riskier and more costly it will be to adequately tackle this threat of climate change.

    To arrest the increase in global temperatures and avoid “dangerous interference with the climate system”, we are going to have to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. In order to do this our emissions will need to peak and decline thereafter. The lower the stabilization level, the more quickly this peak and decline would need to occur. There is of course no absolute definition of “dangerous”, it depends on societal values. However, governments have built a consensus around avoiding more than a 2oC increase above pre-industrial levels. Compare this to the 0.7 degrees we have already seen and the almost 1 degree in the pipeline.

    What might climate change mean for Ottawa? Of course, I can’t tell you exactly because there will be other factors, economic and societal, to consider. But we can expect there to be more heat-waves that will particularly affect the old and frail. We can also expect there to be more heavy precipitation events that will strain our infrastructure. Also, the reliability of skating on the Rideau Canal and skiing in the Gatineau Park will be compromised.

    The debate today is not on the science but on how to best respond. Climate change is possibly the quintessential risk management challenge. There are basically two families of options – adaptation and mitigation or emission reduction. I shall not talk about and climate engineering.

    As I have mentioned future changes in the climate are inevitable and hence adaptation is no longer a policy option but a policy imperative – unless we choose to suffer the expected impacts. Adaptation has been referred to as development under a hostile climate. The impacts of climate change will be experienced mainly at a local or regional level. It is also at these levels that there is also the fullest appreciation and commitment of the resources available to adapt.

    The Ontario government has recently completed an in-depth study of adaptation options for the Province. We are going to have to build our infrastructure to be more resilient to climate extremes for example. If we are smart we can design adaptation options that will address other objectives for we must see climate change in the context of other societal stresses such as security, health care, social inequity etc… Nobody expects you to spend money on solely addressing climate change; you will want to be looking for win-win opportunities.

    But we cannot rely on adaptation alone. The greater the changes to the climate the more difficult it will be to adapt; emission reductions are essential. Our emissions depend on four factors: population, per capita wealth, the energy intensity of the economy and the carbon content of our fuels. Demographic factors seem to be on our side but increasing wealth tends to go with larger homes, bigger cars, and generally consuming more energy. The energy intensity of our economy has declined but this has been insufficient to reduce emissions. The combined effects of global population growth and increased wealth have simply overwhelmed it. As energy efficiency improves we tend to use more.

    If we are going to de-carbonize our economy we need to switch to new technologies such as solar, wind and hydro-power or use carbon sources that are at least renewable such as bio-fuels or possibly taking advantage of capturing the carbon emissions and burying emissions underground.

    We are going to need a portfolio of technologies – there is unlikely to be one silver bullet. Some of these technologies are currently available or expected to be commercialized in coming decades. We need to put in place appropriate and effective incentives for their development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion.

    Addressing climate change will be a long-term challenge but one we must start now. There is no excuse for inaction. To quote the 2010 World Development Report, we need to “act now, act together and act differently”.But there has to be a will – political leadership. I believe that in tackling this issue wisely we can build a more secure, healthier and technologically innovative Ottawa. Your plan is an excellent start. Just do it!

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  6. Charles says:

    I heard from a City staffer after alerting ClimateOttawa email subscribers to the post in which I requested them to express support for the Sustainability & Resilience Plan, etc. The staffer wrote:

    I wanted to flag an inaccuracy in the broadcast message below that should be corrected.

    The City itself did not spend $1M on the project. The overall project budget was $1M with the City funding approx. 35 per cent. The City was successful in securing funding support from both partners as well as from a number of other sources. The breakdown was as follows:

    City of Ottawa: $370,000

    ‪Federation of Canadian Municipalities: $350,000

    ‪City of Gatineau: $115,000

    ‪National Capital Commission: $115,000

    ‪J.W. McConnell Foundation: $75,000

    ‪Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation: $35,000

    I would appreciate if you could ensure this positioning in any future correspondence.


    Happy to oblige.

    In defense of the million dollar reference (the above figures do add up to slightly more than a million), it was Councillor Alan Hubley who mentioned it (critically) at Environment Committee.

    From the audio transcript.
    Councillor Hubley:”My understanding is that this has cost us close to a million dollars to get to where we are today. Is that correct?”
    Ms. Schepers: “That’s correct Councillor.”

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