Robb Barnes: To Help Save The Climate, Elect a Greener Ottawa City Council
On June 19, Ottawans woke up to some bad news. Ford had just gutted the GreenON program, the province’s program for helping people save money on energy through home improvements. After a campaign built around helping out the “little guy,” Ford’s action punished average homeowners by making it harder for them to install new windows, insulation and efficient heating. Ottawa business owners and contractors also had the rug pulled out from under them, with collapsing demand for their services and a long line of angry customers left in the lurch.
The provincial government is now shifting from a middling position on the climate file to the Trump league of do-nothing, know-nothing denial.
And then there’s Ottawa Council. On the same day as Ford’s GreenON move, the city’s environment committee met to discuss progress on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The only problem is, no one had the data to tell the city if emissions were rising or falling. That data has been long-promised, but the city wasn’t able to report on time. How can we know how we are doing if the city doesn’t dedicate the time and resources to report on progress in a frequent and timely manner? At this point, council is planning for 2019 and beyond with 2012 data.
When it comes to action on climate change, the City of Ottawa has a long history of falling behind. In May 2014, well before the last municipal election, the city promised to develop a clean energy strategy that would help transition from fossil fuel dependence by promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation. That strategy, called Energy Evolution, was partially launched in 2017. But the most important chapter – dealing with transportation and buildings – has been pushed to late in 2019.
Transportation and buildings make up nearly 90 per cent of all emissions in our city. This means that Ottawa can’t take meaningful action on climate change without addressing how we move around our city, or how we heat, cool and electrify our homes, offices and other buildings.
The battle for staffing and resources to keep the plan moving is now waged annually, with piecemeal climate funding playing second fiddle to nearly every other line item in the city’s budget. For example, in the last budget round, the city committed only $500,000 in new money for Energy Evolution while committing over 80 times that amount – $43 million – on new road building and expansion.
It’s clear that protecting Ottawa’s environment remains a daunting challenge. So, what can be done?
Environmental leadership is needed at City Hall. Ottawa needs a greener city council and the 2018 election on Oct. 22 is an important opportunity to make it happen.
After the dust settles from the election, council will have an opportunity to set its priorities for the coming four years. It is critical that climate protection be at the forefront of council’s priorities, and that council ramps up funding and staffing for Energy Evolution. It must also increase the frequency of emissions reporting, develop a climate adaptation plan and integrate climate considerations into the new Official Plan.
With bold climate leadership, a new council can take strong climate action even in the face of provincial retrenchment. With the right vision, ambition and funding commitments, Ottawa will avoid facing another month like the one we just had.
Robb Barnes is the executive director of Ecology Ottawa, a grassroots environmental organization working to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ecologyottawa