Will the City of Ottawa finally produce a meaningful Renewable Energy Strategy in 2017? Will Mayor Watson seize the historic opportunity represented by provincial and federal climate action to position our city as a leader on the most important issue facing humanity today?
These are the key questions that Ecology Ottawa's climate change campaign is asking going into the new year. Your support makes a huge difference. Will you help ensure local leadership on climate change and clean energy by donating $25, $50 or $100?
We have been waiting for years for the City of Ottawa to follow through on its commitment to play a leading role in the fight against climate change, but there is reason to believe that 2017 could be the year it finally happens. Back in 2014, as controversy mounted around the City's failure to act, Mayor Watson cobbled together and released an Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan. This was an important moment for all of us, but it was ultimately incomplete. The Climate Plan set new greenhouse gas reduction targets, but it was essentially a laundry list of actions that the City was already planning to carry out. It did not include any major new investments, nor did it announce any important policy changes.
That said, the 2014 Climate Plan was still good news. For the first time in a very long time, an Ottawa mayor was standing on stage in front of hundreds of people, including many Ecology Ottawa supporters like you, arguing that climate change was one of the most important issues facing humanity. Mayor Watson acknowledged the critical role that cities have in promoting solutions, set new targets, and promised to work to surpass them. Most importantly, the Climate Plan clearly stated that the City would announce new and desperately needed actions in order to honour its commitments and meet its goals. Ottawa residents were promised meaningful action above and beyond what was on the table...
And then nothing happened.
The months passed and the 2014 municipal election ramped up. To his credit, the Mayor – along with a majority of councillors - clearly stated their support for action on climate change in response to our 2014 election survey. At an Ecology Ottawa all-candidates' debate, the Mayor also stated that taking action on climate change was a "moral responsibility”.
In the wake of the 2014 election, the Mayor appointed Councillor David Chernushenko - a major environmental champion - to chair the Environment Committee. The City also committed to develop a Renewable Energy Strategy as one of its Term of Council Strategic Initiatives. The Renewable Energy Strategy promised to include measures “in collaboration with community partners… to advance energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy generation…”.
Was this the additional action we had been promised?
Over the course of about a year, the City worked hard to bring together stakeholders and facilitate a conversation about promoting clean energy and transitioning away from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, when the City released a draft list of actions that could form the basis of its Renewable Energy Strategy, there were still no important policy change commitments and no major new investments. We were once again left wondering whether the city of Ottawa had the political will to act on climate change. Would the Mayor ever make good on his promises?
We continue to hold out hope that 2017 could finally be the year the City moves forward. The Mayor specifically mentioned the Renewable Energy Strategy in his budget speech a couple months ago - an important signal that his commitment was not getting lost in the massive reorganization at City Hall. The City's 2017 budget committed $300,000 in new funding for renewable energy and efficiency projects, above and beyond existing programs. And work on the Renewable Energy Strategy continues. There are good people on the job at City Hall, consultations with stakeholders continue, and there appears to be a strong commitment to finalize the Renewable Energy Strategy in 2017.
Meanwhile, provincial and federal action is creating a window of opportunity for the City of Ottawa. The provincial and federal governments are making major strategic investments and putting forward significant policy change proposals. The City of Ottawa has an opportunity to join the other levels of government in a coordinated response to this pressing problem. But if the City wants to be taken seriously then its response must include at least two things:
- Specific and meaningful policy commitments - not just plans for policy changes sometime in the future; and
- Major new investments in projects that help move us all in the right direction. In the past, when the City has gotten serious about active transportation, public transit or clean water, it put forward plans in the tens or hundreds of millions. The current climate commitment of a few hundred thousand dollars remains tiny in comparison to these other environmental initiatives.
With thanks and hope for 2017,
Graham, Charles, Lucie, Velta, Robb and the entire Ecology Ottawa team