Support the February 16 Environment Committee Motion

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On February 16 an important motion comes before the City of Ottawa’s Environment Committee.

The motion proposes five things:

  1. That the City strenghten its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to match the more ambitious Ontario provincial target
  2. That Mayor Jim Watson join an international climate initiative called “the Compact of Mayors”
  3. That David Chernushenko work with multiple city departments and outside groups to generate an implementation plan to reach the more ambitious targets
  • That city staff study the feasibility of imposing minimum energy efficiency standards for new construction in Ottawa
  • That the Environment Committee change its name to the Environment and Climate Protection Committee
  • You can see the text of the actual motion here.

    Ecology Ottawa supports this motion and urges city council to pass it or one substantially similar.

    Help Pass That Motion! If you agree that it’s important the motion passes, please tell your city Councillor and the Mayor. Councillor David Chernushenko should be told too; he is proposing the motion and chairs the Environment Committee.

    Here’s how to reach them:

    Be There! One sure way to show your support is to attend the Environment Committee meeting onFebruary 16.  Audience numbers count, showing that citizens are concerned about climate change.  The public have the right to speak, so take the opportunity to speak in person about support the motion.

    More About What the Motion Means

    #1 - Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets The City of Ottawa certainly should make it’s GHG reduction target more ambitious as this motion proposes to do.

    The current city target is insufficient for our city to match what our province aims to achieve. If the cities of Ontario don’t achieve GHG reductions they will hold back the province’s success.

    The various targets are hard to compare for several reasons.

    • In 2014 the City of Ottawa reset its GHG target; 20% reduction by 2024. The Province of Ontario now has a series of targets for 2020, 2030 and ultimately 80% reduction by 2050.
    • Whereas the city uses 2014 as it’s starting year, Ontario and many other jurisdictions use 1990 as their starting year.
    • The city targets are measured per capita while the province defines its targets in absolute quantities of carbon dioxide emissions reduced.
    The existing reduction targets for the City of Ottawa appear to be less ambitious than those for the Province of Ontario. For instance, the city 20% “per capita” target amounts to only 12% reduction when measured by the “absolute quantity” method used by the province. Because of the differences in how each defines their targets, exactly how much less ambitious the city’s target is remains debatable. Whether the city’s targets are half as ambitious as the province’s, or far closer to matching them is something of a judgement call.

    The motion coming before Environment Committee on February 16 would remove the lack of comparability for the 2050 target.

    Unfortunately the more meaningful nearer term provincial targets of 15% by 2020 and 37% by 2030 remain unmatched.

    #2 – The Compact of Mayors The Mayor of Ottawa should certainly be a representative of our city for this international network. Toronto, Burlington, Oakville, Kitchener, London, Durham and Thunder Bay are Ontario municipalities that have already joined.

    The Compact describes itself as establishing “a common platform to capture the impact of cities’ collective actions through standardized measurement of emissions and climate risk, and consistent, public reporting of their efforts.”

    Climate change action has been an area of concern and some difficulty at the City of Ottawa since well before amalgamation in the year 2000. Throughout that time consistency in measurement of emissions has been a challenge. An internationally standardized approach as promised by the Compact of Mayors may help Ottawa with this challenge.

    Similarly, during the history of the City of Ottawa’s grappling with climate change public reporting has been intermittent and may well be improved by joining.

    The Compact also proposes to enhance measurement of climate risk. In his 2012 annual report the City of Ottawa’s Auditor General pointed out possible liability associated with the lack of a city climate change adaptation plan. Standardized measurement of climate risk is likely to provide useful data to an adaptation plan.

    It should be noted that Ottawa has also been a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Partners for Climate Protection program for many decades and that this has not resulted in previous GHG targets being met, nor substantial emissions reductions as currently needed.

    The motion coming before committee should be passed, but more importantly it needs to lead to concrete action and meaningful results.

    #3 –Implementation Plan Within the City of Ottawa an interdepartmental working group were brought together during the development of the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan released in 2014. The motion, if passed, will require the Chair of Environment Committee to work with this group as well as outside stakeholders including Ecology Ottawa to bring forward an implementation plan that would achieve the 80% reduction target.

    In order to achieve such high levels of reduction it will be necessary for almost everyone working at the City of Ottawa and everyone living in Ottawa to make changes to how they do things. Weaving climate solutions into the fabric of how municipal government works will be necessary. Interdepartmental collaboration is essential. It is the people who work in the various departments who know their jobs best and if they can integrate climate solutions into their objectives along with such goals as service levels and savings for taxpayers, they will be most likely to identify solutions that work.

    An implementation plan may be necessary, but it will be the many various implementations the departments put in place themselves, based on the adoption of climate as one of their priorities, that will achieve the target needed.

    This portion of the motion should be supported while recognizing that what Ottawa needs is not just another plan, but actual changes that make a difference.

    #4 – Energy Standards Getting homes and buildings in Ottawa to use less energy and thereby reduce their GHG emissions is one of the most important goals that this motion addresses. In study after study it has been consistently shown that the greatest contributing sector to GHG emissions within city boundaries is from houses and buildings; far more than from cars, trucks and busses.

    The portion of the motion addressing minimum energy performance standards for new residential and commercial buildings in Ottawa does so by asking staff to investigate the feasibility of such standards. Again, while a necessary area for improvement and as such a part of the motion that should be supported, a feasibility study will not in itself reduce GHG emissions. More must be done. As feasibility is being explored perhaps draft standards should also be developed and the groundwork for other measures can be laid such as “energy benchmarking” by which a building’s energy efficiency becomes a matter of public record.

    #5 – Committee Name Change The recently elected Canadian government changed the name of Environment Canada to Environment and Climate Change Canada; a change identical to one that took place a year earlier at Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

    Both these changes reflect an expanded focus on climate change by their respective governments and is doubtless also the aim of proponents of climate action within the City of Ottawa. However, at the provincial and federal level these name changes came from the top; the Premier and Prime Minster ultimately made those decisions. At the city level we don’t have evidence that Mayor Jim Watson is behind such a change or whether he supports it.

    Scuttlebutt tells us that there are others at the city who oppose it, some feeling that Environment Committee’s role is sufficiently small that it could be argued it shouldn’t be a standing committee of its own; rather a subcommittee of something like Planning Committee.

    Yet the motion itself points out that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities identifies cities as having jurisdiction over as much as 45% of GHG emissions. We can’t fight climate change at a federal or provincial level if we don’t involve cities in the fight as well. The expanded emphasis shown by name changes federally and provincially needs a matching expanded emphasis at the City of Ottawa.

    A committee name change will be meaningless without an expanded emphasis on climate change in city governance and operations. However, a committee name change backed by mayoral leadership will support meaningful change within the walls of city hall.

    Pass That Motion! So, once again, if you agree that it’s important the motion passes, please tell your city Councillor and the Mayor. Councillor David Chernushenko should be told too; he is proposing the motion and chairs the Environment Committee.

    Here’s how to reach them:

    Be There!

    Show your support by attending the Environment Committee meeting on February 16.


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