Climate change action in the midst of a pandemic

Shawn Menard
Councillor, Capital Ward

While the last six months have been pandemic crisis mode across Ottawa, city staff and community activists have continued work on fulfilling our climate change commitments. In the spring of 2019, the City of Ottawa declared a climate change emergency. We joined other cities across Canada – and the globe – in pledging to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The need to act was dramatically underscored by local natural disasters – the worst flooding of the Ottawa River on record, coming just two years after the last 100-year flood in 2017 and one year after an unprecedented tornado hit the region.

The climate emergency declaration was more than just symbolism. It was tied to a number of concrete actions, including a review and update of the Climate Change Master Plan, a commitment to a detailed implementation strategy, the development of a vulnerability assessment and climate resilience strategy and a recognition of climate change as a strategic priority for the city.

Cities have influence over more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in the form of land-use decisions, transportation patterns, energy conservation efforts and waste management. While the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions are not directly under the city’s control, the policy decisions we make shape everyday decisions like how to insulate your house, whether to drive or bike to the grocery store and whether you compost your organics or send them to the landfill.

In the last year and a half, Ottawa has taken significant steps toward building a more resilient, sustainable community. In January, council unanimously approved the Climate Change Master Plan for mitigation and adaptation, with targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the community by 100 per cent by 2050 and from city operations by 100 per cent by 2040. In June, the city received local climate projections and is now starting work on a vulnerability assessment. And on October 20, staff will present Energy Evolution, the city’s Community Energy Transition Strategy with a vision to transform Ottawa into a thriving city powered by clean, renewable energy. Energy Evolution includes an energy and emissions model, financial analysis and 20 priority projects. If it is approved, we will move into implementation.

However, there are still a lot of questions – the most pressing one is dedicated funding. The city’s budget for fighting climate change is not guaranteed each year like other programs, but rather assembled from the Hydro Ottawa dividends surplus – any funds that exceed the $20 million that already goes to core city services. This budget is often threatened or reduced mid-way through the year, which makes planning difficult, if not impossible.

Funding for implementation is an even bigger question – the city can’t front the $31.8-billion price tag for the Climate Change Plan without support from senior levels of government. Upcoming budget deliberations this fall will be severely impacted by COVID-19 related costs, with many capital projects already deferred to 2021 or beyond.

The scope and scale required to achieve 100-per-cent emissions reduction is unprecedented in both action and investment. Success will require an all-hands-on-deck mentality from residents and businesses to eliminate fossil fuels from their buildings and transportation choices.

This will be good for the environment as well as our city’s prosperity. Achieving the greenhouse gas reduction targets will result in a net return to the Ottawa community of $12.4 billion. This is from increased local energy generation, energy savings and local job creation. It requires significant investment, however, especially in the coming decade. For those looking for more information or to get involved, check out the Energy Evolution page of the Master Plan for details on the strategy, how to take private action and what to expect.

Development Updates
After working with the developers of 99 Fifth Avenue (Fifth Avenue Court), there are improvements to the Transportation Control Plan to ensure greater safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, especially for kids on their way to and from school.

We have spoken with the developers of the Amica development at 890-900 Bank Street (the old Mr. Muffler and Beer Store site). The noise and road closure have been a trial for residents on Monk, Melgund and Thornton.

The road has now re-opened. As well, the developers are delaying the start of daily construction to 7 a.m. to provide more peace for neighbours.

There’s a lot going on in the neighbourhood and we will keep working with developers and residents to make things go as smoothly as possible.

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