Best Summer Ever! Or Not?
If this summer is not confirmation enough, it is becoming more and more difficult to deny that climate change is happening. We have had almost 40 days this summer where temperatures exceeded 30 degrees C in Southern Ontario. On top of the heat, it has also been the sixths driest summer on record.
Now many of us also found this to be one of the best summers in recent history if hot dry sunny days are what you want. But what are the long term effects? I can say from my experience that by August I was well adapted to the high temperatures to the point that a cool day of 25 degrees was down right cold. Great for me, but what is the impact on the natural environment? We know there are impacts and we know we have to change.
Making Change is a Difficult but Necessary Action
So how do we make the necessary changes to slow down the trend if not outright reverse it? We have to change...yes change, the hardest thing for almost everyone to do. Especially considering that many of the changes circle around our carbon based society and all the conveniences and comforts this culture brings to us. Where do we start and will our efforts really make a difference?
Provincial Plan is a Great Start to Aligning Necessary Change
The Province has made a great start in publishing the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan this summer and it marks a clear change in direction that focuses on green house gas reduction goals as a universal target for creating effective change. Since the late 1990 there has been a slow but steady effort by the Province to make change and it is working...we need to now get much more engaged at a local level to help make this work.
With targets based on a 1990 emissions benchmark, reductions of 15 percent by 2020, 37 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2080 are forecast for the plan. These may appear lofty goals but I expect they are necessary and are achievable as long as everyone starts to take personal ownership.
Is Your Municipality Focusing on the Right Things?
Environmental stewardship is a priority for many municipalities with all required to develop energy management plans and incorporating best practices in making a sustainable improvement to various aspects of our environment. But can we and do we measure what impact these programs have on actually moving the bar on climate change?
The beauty of targeting green house gas emissions as a proxy to effective climate change mitigation is that as engineers we can measure this. But if you look at various municipal climate change or environmental action plans, the notion of tangible GHG reductions is not always present and if present may not be well defined as an overarching goal to achieving tangible results.
One good example is the City of Toronto were, similar to the Provincial plan, they have set targets based on a 1990 benchmark of 6 percent by 2012 (surpassed), 30 percent by 2020 (on track), and 80 percent by 2050. These targets are more aggressive then the Provincial targets and so far are being achieved.
What is your municipality doing to align itself to the Provincial plan? I believe that strong alignment will be the only way to make the necessary changes. Only by focusing on the same goals will we reach these targets. Is it time to take a look at your Environmental Strategy and make sure there is alignment on the right outcome?
Some Things Municipalities Can Align With?
There are a number of areas were the Provincial legislative framework is moving the agenda forward. Programs under Ontario Regulation 397/11, being the Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan clearly sets out the tracking and reporting requirements for every municipality in Ontario. But are you simply following through on these submissions to met the legislative requirements or are you taking the information to heart and making real efforts to set new targets and measure real change? After all this is what is intended by this regulation.
Can We Align with the Province on at Least One Thing?
So what has the Province identified as actions within this plan, and can municipalities find alignment as well? Here are a few actions that could easily fit within a municipal public works mandate:
- Installation of electric vehicle charging stations
- Improve commute cycling networks
- Showcase heritage buildings a low carbon projects
- Participate in Green Button Program to share and access electricity, gas and water consumption as program grows
- Set green development standards
- Make climate change a planning and engineering priority
- Reduce minimum parking requirements in transit corridors
- Participate in Provincial GHG reduction challenge fund to gain access to grants
- Access funds in developing Climate Action Plans from the Province
- Consider "low emission traffic zones" in highly congested traffic areas
- Rethink building energy needs and long term benefits of co-gen or ground source energy sources
Considering the legislation and attention on climate change, we should all be already doing many of these actions. If you are great...see what you can do more of. If you are not engaged in these actions, find out from your energy team where you can participate and help make the provincial targets a reality.