A Substantial Step Forward on Climate Change in Ottawa

[Recently sent to Ecology Ottawa email update subscribers.]

This month is historic.

Wow! Hundreds of Ecology Ottawa supporters made this happen. We've entered a new phase with dramatic progress on our climate change campaign.

How we got here

Since its founding in 2006 Ecology Ottawa has made local action on climate change one of its most important priorities. Local use of energy which ultimately causes the burning of oil, coal or gas is contributing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and is worsening the greatest crisis of our time. Our local climate is changing bringing new and increased risks for which we must prepare.

The month of May 2014 represents a significant milestone in our city’s progress and Ecology Ottawa supporters can take significant credit for getting to this point.

We've always encouraged the City of Ottawa to work with citizens to both:

  • do our fair share in reducing our city’s contribution to climate change; and
  • plan for how the city will cope with the changes climate change is bringing.
For many years these efforts appeared to go nowhere.

Through 2011 and 2012 Ecology Ottawa worked with supportive city councillors and city staff to slowly move the issue forward:

  • the city’s GHG Inventory* had been hung-up in back offices until Ecology Ottawa supporters prompted it’s release;
  • that document would have been read into the record without debate but Ecology Ottawa supporters influenced it to be discussed at Environment Committee;
  • that discussion highlighted missed GHG reduction targets from past city climate change management plans and opened the opportunity to do something about it;
  • we worked with supportive councillors to draft a successful motion to hold a GHG Roundtable;
  • through 2012 when there was no evidence that the Roundtable was being organized hundreds of Ecology Ottawa supporters undertook a campaign to encourage the city to get on with it, until in late 2012 the Mayor promised it would happen in Q1 2013;
  • still there was no public sense, nor any sense through private conversations with city staff or supportive councillors, that there was political will to take action on climate change.
Finally in early 2013 there was a breakthrough. The March 23, 2013 GHG Roundtable had to turn people away there was so much interest from you our supporters. Before more than 200 people Mayor Jim Watson assumed a prominent role and vowed that the city would renew its Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan by mid-2014.

Where we're at

The plan being considered at the city’s Environment Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 20 is the result of that mayoral leadership.

The actual plan is more than 160 pages long but Ecology Ottawa has summarized it here.

In short – despite some notable weaknesses – Ecology Ottawa is extremely pleased with the new city climate change management plan. It represents a real reengagement by the city in tackling this important challenge. The plan reflects a candor and depth of analysis which could only be present in a document like this – one explicitly endorsed by our elected leaders – where there is a political willingness to pursue the issue.

We're optimistic about examples such as the plan’s recommendations on district heating, building energy benchmarking, and renewed partnerships to implement existing building energy upgrades. The city is investing heavily in light rail and the plan anticipates a considerable portion of targeted reductions will depend on this project. We’re also happy to see the City of Ottawa embarking on climate change adaptation planning which will help protect our city from the risks climate change already brings.

The failings of the plan rest in its unambitious GHG reduction target of 20% per capita by 2024 and its reliance on undefined initiatives to achieve reductions among the general population who produce the bulk of the emissions. Yet the plan itself acknowledges that there is more to be done and lays out an intention to introduce specific initiatives beginning with the next city budget and as priority objectives for a new city council after the October municipal elections.

So today the news is good. Your support of Ecology Ottawa and your engagement with city hall in concert with other Ecology Ottawa supporters has brought our city to a new and hopeful pass. At an Ecology Ottawa steering committee meeting held just this week this achievement was described as one of the shining examples of the most productive period in Ecology Ottawa’s history.

If you haven't yet added your name to the Ottawa climate pledge now might be a good time. If you do we'll make sure you get special updates related to climate change.

Thank you for all you do.

Sincerely Graham Saul Executive Director

*GHG is shorthand for “greenhouse gas” – those emissions such as carbon dioxide (also known as CO2) and methane which, as their concentrations increase, are responsible for trapping more heat in earth’s atmosphere. The GHG Inventory is a study the city does periodically to quantify how much GHG we are adding to the atmosphere as a region.

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