Destructive storms that cut power for days. Floods that force rivers to cross their banks. Heatwaves in early spring. The climate is changing and we are feeling it. The question is no longer whether the effects of climate change are there or what we should do, the question now is: are we doing enough?
Climate change is the result of global forces, which can make solutions seem out of reach at the local level. But cities can play an important role in the action.
Andrea Flowers is the Manager of Climate Change and Resilience at the City of Ottawa. She says cities have a role, direct or indirect, in controlling about half of the country’s emissions. It is directly responsible for the emissions of its transit vehicle fleet, the energy consumption of its buildings and waste policies. Indirectly, the city controls things like planning: where to lay roads and where to build houses.
But climate initiatives compete with other interests around the board table and, with a limited budget, they often end up low on the priority list.
“I think it’s easy to oppose [city departments] against each other,” says Flowers. “The reality is that we can’t really separate these things. There will be higher costs for our infrastructure, there will be higher costs for our residents, our communities and our businesses if we are not sufficiently prepared for climate change.
Sana Badruddin of Ecology Ottawa, a community-based non-profit organization focused on climate change, says: “Cities generate huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions because there are more people there. . But it also makes cities a place with the greatest potential to fight climate change. »
The city has already proposed a plan with ambitious goals, both for the city as a whole and for its own operations. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 68% by 2030 and be fully net zero by 2050. The city government wants to halve its own emissions by 2030 and reach net zero – this which means the amount of carbon released equals the amount removed – by 2040. Known as the Energy Evolution Plan, the strategy aims to put more electric vehicles on the road, move its fleet away from fuels fossil fuels, modernizing buildings and diverting waste from its landfills.
Badruddin says this plan is crucial to achieving the city’s goals, but there’s more to action than just having goals. “This strategy, the Energy Evolution plan, needs funding to be able to do one of the things it’s set out to do. Otherwise, they are just empty words,” she says.
The city estimates that it will need investments of approximately $1.6 billion per year to achieve its goals. But the stability of funding is a problem, because the money comes from dividends paid by Hydro Ottawa. The 2022 budget, for example, initially provided just $800,000, with the belated addition of $1 million in one-time funding.
“To meet Ottawa’s reduction targets and build resilience to our changing climate, the next council will need to provide consistent funding and staff resources to implement many projects,” Flowers said.
Angela Keller-Herzog, executive director of Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability, says it’s important to weigh the benefits of climate change projects, both to the planet and to the bottom line.
“A lot of investments in what you might call climate action have returns,” says Keller-Herzog. She refers to the city’s fleet electrification project: although there would be a large initial investment, the city would pay lower maintenance costs over time, as electric vehicles generally require less energy. maintenance and no longer pay gas bills.
A similar situation can be seen in retrofitted buildings in the city, as increased efficiency leads to lower energy costs. The city estimates that by 2050, after a total investment of $52.6 billion, it would earn a return of $87.7 billion.
Climate action is not just high tech projects. Sometimes it’s just about making neighborhoods more livable. Jayson MacLean, President of Sustainable Living Ottawa East, highlights one of the big concerns of people in Old Ottawa East: the tree canopy. The massive storm that blew through the city last spring highlighted just how important and fragile trees can be. “And when they go down, it’s a big deal,” he says. This summer, his organization conducted a canopy survey in the neighborhood and donated saplings to plant in the area.
“What I would like to see from city councilors and mayoral candidates is that everyone has climate as their primary focus,” MacLean said.
Badruddin says that in this election, candidates must have a specific plan for funding climate change projects in order to be taken seriously. “They need to talk about funding the climate change master plan, especially the Energy Evolution plan. Funding our transition to net zero – if the funding isn’t there, then what is the city doing to fight climate change? »