The City of Ottawa’s New Climate Change Plan – What Does It Mean?

AQCCMP2014The 2014 Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan runs to more than 160 pages including appendices. You can download it here. It represents city hall’s renewed commitment to taking action on climate change.

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Much of the plan is an accounting of the not inconsiderable groundwork that has already been laid in attempting to address the problem. The plan includes impressively detailed information on such important things as energy supply and demand in Ottawa; and considerations in choosing whether or not to attempt to stimulate private building energy retrofits. The document openly admits that previous greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were missed; further, that what progress has been made toward those targets is mostly due to actions at the provincial level in the phase out of coal burning electrical generation.

The fact that work has been done but results have not been seen is something of a paradox; should we think the groundwork done will underlay future results, or that the work done has been ineffectual? Results achieved in other Canadian cities (not itemised in the plan) indicate that reduced emissions have been achieved elsewhere and could be seen here.

The new plan sets out a new greenhouse gas reduction target of 20% per capita of 2012 emissions levels by the year 2024. Because the population is expected to grow over the coming decade the plan estimates that such a per capita reduction will actually result in a 12% reduction in absolute tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions. This target is not a particularly ambitious one when compared with some from other Canadian cities. The modest target and its expression in per capita terms are sources of criticism in the wide feedback that Ecology Ottawa has received to this plan. However, credible observers have also pointed out that there is merit in setting a target that can actually be achieved. In comparison to provincial and international targets of 80% by 2050 it is clear that there is a long way to go.

It is clear that calculations of greenhouse gas emissions for city operations – called “corporate” emissions – are based on data available to the city in-house. In contrast estimations of “community” emissions are inferred based on province-wide data. So the accounting of the vast majority of greenhouse gasses, those being released by all the rest of us, is necessarily less rigorous.

The plan’s immediate activities are to continue those already underway. The first new efforts will come after the October municipal election when a short-list of actions will be proposed to the new council for inclusion in the 2015 budget. These actions are chiefly aimed at reducing emissions within city operations themselves.

A second round of efforts is proposed to be presented for inclusion in the next City Council’s “term of council priorities” an expectation-setting document undertaken after each election to set the course for the four years ahead. The climate change management actions which might be brought by a new council are largely undefined within the new plan.

Actions identified in the plan are largely confined to only the first of five areas of focus which the plan recommends be undertaken. Those five are:

  1. Continuing to implement cost effective improvements across City operations.
  2. Working with partners to provide people with the information and tools they need to make informed decisions.
  3. Working with partners to give assistance to those who want to make their homes, businesses, and investment properties more energy efficient and resilient.
  4. Working with partners to provide direction and certainty to the design and construction industry for the creation of sustainable urban spaces and structures.
  5. Developing a stewardship program to manage and secure land to serve as natural water reservoirs, windbreaks, air filters, and carbon sinks.
Areas of focus 2 through 5 are left to post-election actions and importantly represent the most meaningful opportunities for actual emissions reductions. Admittedly the city has greater influence on its own operations than it does on emissions from all of the rest of us.

The plan includes a report on progress against the 2005 Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan. One notable difference between the plans is that the new plan no longer identifies separate emission reduction targets for the city itself (“corporate”) and the rest of us (”community”). The justification is that projects like LRT which are hoped to substantially increase the use of public transit will necessarily result in increased energy use and emissions on the part of the city while having an overall result of reduced emissions as more people leave their cars at home.

[caption id="attachment_3017" align="alignright" width="150"]AQCCMP-pie-chart From Pg 23 of the Plan[/caption]

Also included is an updated GHG Inventory appendix showing our emissions as calculated at 2004, 2008 and 2012. It is from this document that our failure to meet past reduction targets is drawn but an overall emission reduction of 12% over that time span is reported. The inventory also contains a pie chart that graphically shows that nearly 90% of our emissions come from just two sources, buildings and transportation; 49% from heating, cooling, lighting and using equipment in buildings, and 40% from vehicle use, shipping, public transit, etc.

Up until this plan there has been little coordinated attention to climate change adaptation in Ottawa. Whereas reducing emissions is aimed at stopping making the problem worse and is often termed “mitigation”, “adaptation” gives focus to the fact that climate change is already upon us and tries to plan for the challenges we know will come. This plan takes a first step at addressing this gap. It identifies a plan to enumerate innumerate risks and evaluate the scope of potential impacts so as to know where to place effort in either emergency preparedness or investing in more climate-ready infrastructure.

In addition the plan includes appendices covering health implications, the value of natural areas, a review of what other municipalities best practice is and an inventory of available energy and emissions savings incentive programs available to individuals and businesses in Ottawa.

In summary the plan appears to be a sincere effort by city staff with minimal political spin restricting its scope or direction but with the positive attribute of political endorsement including introductory words from the Mayor and the Chair of Environment Committee. The targets are too low and the detail of how they will be met are to be determined, but the direction, the initial rigor and candor, as well as the apparent political will are praiseworthy.

Over the coming weeks Ecology Ottawa will be reviewing the plan's "short-list" of actions to see how they stack up.

Have you added your name to the Ottawa climate pledge?

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