Climate change action during the COVID pandemic

Shawn Menard
Councillor, Capital Ward

Phone: 613-580-2487

The pandemic has meant that almost all media and political attention has been focussed on COVID-19. When the pandemic is declared “over,” there will be another large test the world over: Our ability to mitigate and adapt to the greatest threat facing us, the irreversible climate crisis. Back in April 2019, many of you rallied (in person!) at City Hall to demand the city take bold and decisive action on climate change. With your help, our office pushed city council to unanimously declare a Climate Change Emergency in Ottawa.

Since then, we set net-zero emissions targets and approved a Climate Change Master Plan with an implementation strategy. The city has a bold plan that needs to be executed. Much work remains, but there has been short-term progress.

The city has invested $57 million to upgrade the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre that will allow the sewage treatment plant to generate all its own power, making it less vulnerable to grid failures caused by natural disaster. Four new 1,000-kilowatt engines will be built by 2024 and will be able to produce all the heat and power that the plant needs.

The city successfully competed for $12 million of funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for a Better Homes Loan Program to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ottawa. Through the program, homeowners will be able to get a low-interest loan of up to 10% of their current home value to cover the cost of home-energy improvements. It will help with things like better insulation, air sealing, heat pumps, solar technology, battery storage, electric vehicle charging stations and window and door replacements.

OC Transpo is adding four long-range electric buses to its fleet this fall. We are also urging the full transition of the transit fleet to zero-emission buses. Staff will report to the Transit Commission later this year.

Trees are so important for our quality of life and for our climate resiliency. The new Tree Protection bylaw came into effect on January 1 and put in place processes and fines to better protect trees from infill development and infrastructure projects, including a new definition for what would constitute a distinctive tree. This includes training on tree protection/regeneration with internal city departments, creating four new staff positions dedicated to protecting our tree cover and improved replanting ratios.

In addition, the draft Official Plan currently sets a target of 40-per-cent tree-canopy coverage for Ottawa. This needs to be extended to individual communities in the near future.

Hydro Ottawa has been making LED upgrades to the decorative lighting often found in our parks, along pathways and in recreational facilities. The city has over 68,000 streetlights, which account for 17 per cent of its electrical use at a cost of $7.2 million a year. Hydro Ottawa has converted 53,000 streetlights from traditional high-pressure sodium and metal halide lamps to new Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology, saving us money in the process.

Launched in 2019, the Ottawa Wood Burning Changeout Program encourages residents to replace outdated wood-burning appliances with new, EPA-certified models through a rebate program that will cover 25 per cent of the purchase and installation cost of a replacement to a maximum of $750.

Last fall, my office passed two motions through the Finance and Economic Development Committee to support climate action. The first recommends that the next Long-Range Financial Plan look into better funding strategies for Energy Evolution projects that will generate income or savings for the city, while helping us meet a 100-per-cent emissions reduction target.

The second calls for divestment from fossil fuels and asks staff to consider divestment as part of their investment strategy. Achieving net zero goals means having the courage to do things in new ways, which can be difficult within the framework of city bureaucracy. These motions are a small step in that direction.

The city has also launched a climate vulnerability assessment to assess risks to public health and safety, infrastructure, the economy and natural environment. Overall, Ottawa will become much warmer over the coming decades, with more intense rainfall, flooding and extreme weather events.

Councillor Catherine McKenney passed a motion at the Environment Committee to start the process of banning single-use plastic bottles in our city facilities.

The shift happening in the city is progress, but much more needs to be done right now. Our buildings account for the most emissions in Ottawa and more investment must be made to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and generate savings. Our modal share must shift towards more sustainable modes of transportation – that means spending less on expanding roads, which have been proven to fill up to the same congestion levels after widening. Our power generation needs to become focussed on renewables.

The city must stop expanding its suburban boundary. Knowing we must treat this issue like the emergency it is, it gives me hope when I see new generations of people and groups like Ecology Ottawa, CAFES and Extinction Rebellion in action, working with communities to protect our environment and our future.

Shawn Menard is City Councillor for Capital Ward. He can be reached directly at Shawn.Menard@ottawa.ca.

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