2012 has been an eventful year for residents of Ottawa concerned about global warming. It’s ending on a high note but we’ve sure seen some lows over the last twelve months. To ring in the New Year let’s celebrate a few important points.
This past week Mayor Jim Watson took leadership in the city’s commitment to our climate change contributions by announcing that the greenhouse gas roundtable would be convened before the end of March 2013. The roundtable represents one of the few undertakings of the city that address the bulk of our local contributions to global warming. Other examples are light rail, aimed at improving low carbon transportation, and Planning Committee’s moves to evolve the very layout of the city toward sustainability.
A second reason to rejoice is that City Council in voting to host the greenhouse gas roundtable also voted to maintain its milestone level under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities “Partners for Climate Protection” program. Milestones two and three of this five point approach require Ottawa to have emissions reductions targets and a local action plan. To date the city has not revisited the targets and plan approved by Council back in early 2005 and expiring with 2012, so current Councils commitment to maintain these milestones is important.
Part of the reason for Mayor Watson’s leadership on the roundtable was that people and organisations have begun to contact their City Councillors to confirm that local action on global warming is a priority. This public engagement reinforces a core group of City Councillors who also see the issue as vitally important.
There are good reasons for moving into 2013 with optimism for the City of Ottawa’s prospects in tackling our local climate change contributions. A glance back over 2012 shows how far we have yet to go.
After almost two years of work and an investment of almost a million dollars by Ottawa, Gatineau and the NCC, the outcome of Choosing Our Future was presented to the City of Ottawa Environment Committee. Environmental advocates complemented it but the City appeared to receive it begrudgingly. Within days the group of city staff responsible were reorganized out of existence and the Choosing Our Future website taken down.
Reportedly delayed by multiple rewrites the City produced a report on how much we are contributing to global warming with our local greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were not encouraging in terms of Council’s objective of 20% reductions by 2012.
The report on local greenhouse gas emissions came to the City of Ottawa Environment Committee in a sneaky form that meant duly elected City Councillors were not allowed to ask questions about it or debate it. Also disallowed was the normal “public delegation” opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions. City Councillors were forced to vote on whether they would be allowed to be briefed by city staff and allowed to ask questions. One City Councillor used the phrase “ill will and procedural wrangling” when describing how Environment Committee dealt with this vote. Two Councillors even voted against allowing their colleagues to hear from city staff or discuss the report at Committee.
City Councillors sitting on Environment Committee were finally allowed to discuss the results of the study of our greenhouse gas emissions. The results were disappointing enough in light of what the City of Ottawa Official Plan says about our responsibility to manage our emissions, and compared with reduction targets set by City Council in the past, that Environment Committee voted to host the GHG Roundtable and maintain FCM PCP milestone status. This recommendation went to full City Council later in June and was passed by full Council.
After months of inaction on the GHG Roundtable public pressure began to mount urging the City of Ottawa to set a date. Incredibly it came to light that the husband of Environment Committee Chair Councillor Maria McRae had written posts on his blog that amount to climate change denial propaganda. A resident of Councillor McRae’s ward asked that the Councillor publicly state her own beliefs on whether global warming was a hoax.
Mayor Watson assumed leadership of the issue by declaring that the greenhouse gas roundtable would take place in the first quarter of 2013.