Ecology Ottawa delegates to the Environment and Climate Change Committee on Budget 2024

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Ecology Ottawa was at the City Council’s Environment and Climate Change Committee on November 21 to talk about climate, air quality, CCMP and trees. We’ve provided our delegations below. You can also watch the recording.

Environment and Climate Change Committee - Tuesday, November 21, 2023 

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Below is the text of Ecology Ottawa's two delegations to the City Council’s Environment and Climate Change Committee on November 21, 2023.

 

Delegation 1: Dan Rutabingwa Gakire, Climate Campaigner

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you. My name is Dan Rutabingwa and I have been the climate campaigner with Ecology Ottawa for over 4 months now. I will be speaking on climate and Air quality and you will later hear from my colleague to speak about the CCMP and trees.

It was mentioned earlier that the year 2023 has been extremely unsettling with regard to climate change. The effects of climate change are being felt in Ottawa. In June, Environment Canada rated Ottawa's air quality as a "very high" health risk for several days, the highest level on its scale. The smoke causing this risk came from wildfires in Québec due to arid conditions. Tornadoes, flooding, and heavy rainfall have ravaged Ottawa, causing worsened health conditions, deep worry about when to keep children inside, and anxiety about worsening climate change. It has been projected that the climate in Ottawa will get significantly warmer in the coming years, accompanied by more intense rainfall and extreme weather events. The time to act is now.

The City's budget is a crucial indicator of our priorities. The city should allocate funds for local municipal climate initiatives that can help reduce the impact of climate change. The city staff needs to figure out a way to engage, partner, leverage, and work with residents and civil society on climate issues.

The Breathe Easy Campaign, led by Ecology Ottawa, is an important initiative aimed at addressing the gaps in air quality left by the government. Currently, there is only one air quality monitor in Ottawa, located in a downtown park. However, air quality varies significantly across the city and affects different communities in different ways and this is why we monitor 46 different locations in the city to understand the issue better. 

We have received an overwhelming response from over 200 volunteers who have registered to assist us with monitoring sessions all across the city, indicating people's interest in knowing more about the overall air quality and ways to improve it. 

The Breathe Easy Program has taken the crucial initial step of pinpointing 'hot spots' of air pollution throughout the city and showcasing how air quality is not a monolith.

There are vast discrepancies dependent on location, income level, and demographic makeup. Our previous reports have shown that individuals residing in lower-income neighborhoods tend to be subjected to higher levels of contaminant concentrations, which leads to greater environmental health risks. Air quality worsens with income more significantly than any other factor. This points to a clear demonstration of environmental inequity in the city. This campaign serves as a catalyst for fostering community discussions focused on developing localized solutions aimed at enhancing air quality and, in turn, enhancing overall quality of life. 

Now, We would love to continue this project for the seeable future but the funders want the city to take it on or fund it. We have shown here through our sessions and reports how beneficial it is, why it's needed, and evidence that it works. What we are asking now is that the municipal government should take it on, take responsibility for collecting data on air quality, and take action to improve it for the benefit of the residents. The City of Ottawa must step up now to protect the most vulnerable populations in our neighborhoods. Increasing funding for such programs will encourage more residents to take action. Ottawa has a significant opportunity to become a more livable and resilient city, and this benefits the environment, and the current and future generations.

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Delegation 2: William van Geest, Program Coordinator

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. I’m doing so on behalf of Ecology Ottawa.

Last April, this committee received its annual update on the Climate Change Master Plan. I was struck by a few things when I was reading this update. First, this line: “It is not expected that Ottawa will achieve its short-term target to reduce community emissions by 43 percent by 2025” (4). This isn’t good: as the capital of one of the world’s wealthiest nations, we have no excuse for not doing our part to mitigate GHG emissions. 

Second, I was struck by the fact that only two of the plan’s eight priorities were judged as “on track.” This is particularly striking in that the Plan was approved in 2020—so we’re more than halfway through it. Moreover, City Council declared a climate emergency in 2019—and rightly so: if the countless alarms sounded about record-breaking global temperatures and sea-ice loss weren’t enough, we’ve felt firsthand the effects of climate change in Ottawa—most recently through extreme weather events like the heavy rains causing widespread flooding this summer, or last winter’s ice storm, or last year’s derecho.

Third, I was struck by how frequently in the update the reason given for delays in implementing the Plan was a lack of resources. 

I want to read a few of these passages of the CCMP update:

“One priority, Priority #6, has not advanced since the last status update. This is primarily a result of allocating limited staff resources and prioritizing the most critical initiatives” (19)

“Many priorities are off track due to staff capacity – both within the Climate Change and Resiliency Team and the broader corporation. Staffing constraints have put many projects at risk of not meeting their milestones, including community-facing projects under Energy Evolution, carbon sequestration, and the carbon budget and accounting framework. While the Official Plan, Master Plans, and Asset Management Plans will incorporate climate change mitigation and resiliency considerations, additional capacity is required to undertake detailed analysis, risk assessment, costing, and implementation planning for actions required to meet GHG targets and build resiliency to climate risks” (26–27)

“Many key plans and strategies that support the goals of the Climate Change Master Plan have had to extend their timelines past the initial completion date. This can be attributed to the need for further analysis and consultations to support the scale, scope, and complexity of the projects, the amount of staff and resources available, the pandemic and its impact on staff capacity and priorities, external consultations and surveys, and the impact of the 2022 municipal election.” (30)

Specifically about the $5 million in Budget 2023 devoted to implementing the CCMP, the update says:

“This is a good start, and it will help significantly with planning, staffing and early implementation actions, but it is not sufficient to achieve Council’s climate goals” (26)

With more time, I could provide other examples.

Devoting $5 million in Budget 2023 to implement the CCMP was good. But the City’s own update says it’s not enough. 

Ottawans also want greater climate action from the City: almost a thousand people signed our petition urging Council to take more decisive action, and almost a thousand emails went to councillors and the mayor. Climate change will affect us all, and we must act now to prevent the most serious catastrophes. 

I urge you to increase funding for the CCMP. An additional $5 million this year and subsequent years would be a great next step.

I also want to briefly address the Urban Forest Management Plan. We engaged closely in the development of this plan, and we think it’s good.

As with the CCMP, this committee received an update on the UFMP this summer—and again as with the CCMP, the update listed a number of ways in which implementation of the plan was hampered by lack of resources:

The implementation of the first management period of the UFMP came with several challenges and lessons learned. The biggest challenge was that staffing capacity did not match the work plan. Current resources provide capacity to manage one large project at a time (4)

The work plan for the first management period was quite large and it was not possible to complete all the items listed within the available resources (18)

The UFMP update also identified the obstacle of extreme weather:

In the case of the derecho, many staff in Forestry paused their regular work for months for storm recovery efforts.

We all know the necessity of trees in our city, whether to support the ecosystem, filter air, mitigate the heat island effect, soak up stormwater, and so on. The mayor ran on a campaign promising 250,000 trees planted every year. It’s impossible to reach these targets without adequate funding. This funding also needs to account for extreme weather events: we know such events will increase as our climate warms.

I therefore urge you to properly fund both the Climate Change Master Plan and the Urban Forest Master Plan.

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