On February 22nd 2012 City Council quietly received the Choosing our Future plans. During the same meeting Council heard that the City was abolishing its Sustainability Department; the group who prepared the plans. The Choosing our Future website was quickly taken down. The outcome doesn’t seem to match Council priorities so evidently we have no plan.
The City of Ottawa is acting as if climate change is not a municipal responsibility, a view that is at odds with the assessment of dozens of leaders such as Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York; Klaus Wowereit of Berlin, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, and Gregor Robertson of Vancouver.
The Clinton Climate Initiative says that cities “contribute more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
Eventually our governments will take meaningful actions to combat climate change so the fact that most greenhouse gas emissions originate in cities means that municipalities will be involved in implementing the solutions. Whether the City of Ottawa leads or follows, we will sooner or later be exploring municipal tools for reducing emissions.
If we lead there are at least three advantages in addition to any greenhouse gas reductions we might achieve.
The first is saving money. Study after study calculate the costs of inaction to outweigh the costs of action; from the 2006 British Government’s report by the London School of Economics’ Nicholas Stern; to Paying the Price, Canada’s 2011 National Roundtable on Environment & Economy report.
Second, if we lead locally we pave the way for earlier action by senior levels of government. The more municipalities that demonstrate what is possible and the fewer likely to kick up objections to federal or provincial initiatives, the easier it will be for senior governments to take those initiatives.
Third, when those initiatives come—and they must—we’ll be “shovel ready.”
We shouldn’t have any particular allegiance to what wasn’t working. It doesn’t matter whether Choosing our Future was the right approach or produced the right plans. What matters is that the City is responsible for being involved in reducing the Ottawa carbon footprint. We do need some plan.
The most important reason for the City to take a role is that the issue is urgent. For decades the world scientific community has studied climate change in depth and now shares robust consensus. Anyone who tells you different is either misinformed or lying. More than 190 world governments including Canada officially accept as unequivocal (that’s the word they use) the evidence that climate change is happening. They accept with 90% to 99% certainty (yes, they calibrate the certainty) that it is mainly caused by human actions.
The long term consequences are so dire that the Nobel Prize Committee described lack of urgent action as a threat to the basis of human life. Yet world greenhouse gas concentrations increase year after year and each time more than the year before.
While Canada’s emissions have increased, European emissions have decreased. It can be done. Others are winning their local climate fights. The way to do it is becoming clearer and the needed technology is getting better.
To take responsibility for our greenhouse gas emissions in Ottawa will require joint action by federal, provincial and municipal governments. The City certainly can’t go it alone. Yet experiences from other cities show that there are areas of municipal jurisdiction where action can be taken independently. If the City doesn’t explore the limits of what it can achieve in this regard, it won’t be able to identify to senior governments where their jurisdictions support or impede municipal action.
On the issue of climate change Council’s reach should exceed its grasp.
(apologies to Robert Browning)
cross-posted with Ecology Ottawa