I emailed Katherine Hobbs (my City Councillor) saying
Before the last election I was disappointed when it seemed to me that the City of Ottawa had abandoned efforts on climate change. I have recently heard that now there is quite a lot going on. I would be much obliged if you’d assist me in learning what that is.
Her Senior Assistant Marilyn Comeau very quickly responded with information on:
- a solar power fair
- the Community Environmental Projects Grant Program
- ECO EXPO the Ottawa Healthy Living Fair
- the City’s suggested actions for Earth Day
While this was all good stuff, I didn’t see any of it turning Ottawa’s CO2 budget to a downward trend. I replied a few days later thanking them, asking for something more meaty, and saying in part
I don’t think an organization can do anything without a plan and so I was hoping to learn if the City had a plan to address Climate Change issues.
I see here that a plan was developed almost a decade ago. It set a target of 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2007 for Corporate business activities and by 2012 for Community emissions. I have been unable to see if the City followed up on this plan or has estimates on how far we’ve gotten (or not) toward the targets.
This appeared to stump Councillor Hobbs and Marilyn Comeau who referred my question to Councillor Maria McRae, Chair of the Environment Committee.
Fair enough. Councillor Hobbs had only been in office for a few months. But it did seem to confirm my suspicion that climate change planning is not high on the agenda at City Council.
In good time David Miller, Manager in the Environmental Sustainability Branch responded with some great information.
He broke the City’s efforts into two parts: reducing the impact from City facilities and operations; and reducing the impact from the community. Of course the City has better control on its own facilities than it has on the broader community and David provided a substantial list of efforts in this vein (see below).
However the City’s corporate contributions amount to less than 2% of the entire Ottawa carbon footprint. Thus it is the community contributions that are the real issue.
In regards to community contributions David said
The City is currently involved in a long term planning process – Choosing our Future – which is examining challenges and objectives related to climate change… Direction coming out of this initiative will be help drive the programs/initiatives to address climate change in the next few years.
Unfortunately this initiative, said to be the one to drive climate change planning, does not have a particular climate change focus. In June 2011 Choosing Our Future launched this “call to action” video
Climate change is not mentioned in the video.
Also in June the Environment Committee received an update on Choosing Our Future in which it was reported that the initiative had found economies both in the production of the video and by combining upcoming public consultations with those on solid waste so that an anticipated $120,000 would not be needed.
While I applaud the careful husbanding of taxpayers’ money, this saving strikes me as a de-emphasis of the initiative.
I spoke with Johanne Levesque, Director at Community Sustainability about this, expressing my concern that there is thus little in the way of an overall plan or sense of priority when it comes to community climate change contributions. I hope to learn more.
David also listed a number of more pointed initiatives aimed at community emissions
- light rail
- active transportation initiatives (maybe not so pointed, this)
- Official Plan language around measures designed to address climate change (strong stuff but high-level)
- green building in the private sector
As to the corporate emissions that the City does have control over, here’s David’s list:
- a Green Fleet Policy
- OC Transpo emissions reduction strategy
- new buildings LEED certification
- existing buildings ongoing energy reduction program investing ~$2 million/year
- solar panel pilots
So the City of Ottawa isn’t completely inactive on the climate change file by any means. But is it enough?
Bottom line, it isn’t enough until we can say “wow we only produced a fraction of last year’s greenhouse gasses.”
We’re nowhere near that yet.