Edmonton declared a local weather emergency in 2019. So what has been carried out about it?
Climate activist Olivier Adkin-Kaya wears a dust mask on a day when smoke from forest fires settled in Edmonton in northern Alberta in the spring of 2019. (Steven MacAulay – Image Credit)
Two years ago, during a summer marked by wildfire smoke and climate change awareness marches, the Edmonton City Council declared a climate emergency and embarked on an ambitious mission to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.
While some hailed the statement as a token of leadership to respond to a growing global movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, others wondered if this was just for show.
The revision of the existing energy transition strategy, which was adopted in 2015, was a step towards counteracting the naysayers.
City administrations have been instructed to develop a strategy that aligns with the city’s goals of reducing emissions by 35 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and being a climate-neutral municipality by 2050.
“The declaration of a climate emergency has already changed things,” says the outgoing Counsel. Ben Henderson.
“It really showed people that we need to put this into action, how important it was, and this council thought it was important.”
But how much has actually changed since then?
CBC News analyzed the eight recommendations dated August 27, 2019 when Edmonton declared a climate emergency. By August 11, progress had been made on all calls to action.
But the result of this fall’s local elections could untangle some plans, and critics say the city still hasn’t got nearly enough.
Shafraaz Kaba is among those concerned about whether the city is doing enough. As co-chair of the energy transition climate resistance committee of the city, he hopes for the newly concluded energy transition strategy and the community action plan.
The 58-page document, approved by the Council in April, sets out several avenues for meeting the carbon emissions targets, which cost around $ 24 billion in public and private money over a 10-year period.
A large part of this will be used for the renovation of municipal buildings. According to a sustainability guideline passed in June, urban buildings must be climate neutral by 2040.
The story goes on
“It’s not a cheap endeavor,” says Meghan Harris-Ngae, climate expert at Ernst & Young, a professional service company.
“It will be quite expensive and it will take time. So these are the things that, when you look at progress on commitments, take a total of five years. How much are the expenses? be used for retrofitting the infrastructure? “
Energy incentive programs that help property owners finance upgrades to ventilation, heating, cooling systems, windows and insulation pay off in both cost savings and reduced emissions, says Kaba.
In a recent community survey commissioned by CBC Edmonton, respondents rated upgrading urban facilities and operations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions averaging 6.7 out of 10.
About 60 percent gave the priority a high score of seven to 10, and 28 percent gave it a medium score of four to six. Only 11 percent gave him a low score of zero to three.
CBC Edmonton poll results
Bicycles, transit and garbage disposal
Traffic is responsible for 30 percent of Edmonton’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cycle paths have been expanded and improved, says Barbara Daly, the city’s senior project manager for environmental strategies.
“They just added a safety element that doesn’t even make me hesitate to get on my bike instead of getting in my car,” said Daly.
“And once the riders know where they are and which spots they should avoid, which left-hand corners don’t work so well, there is a certain harmony, I think, that arises for the motorcycles.”
Work is underway to expand Edmonton’s mass transit system with the construction of LRTs.
And for the past two years, the city has started implementing its waste strategy, including a new program where single-family households separate leftover food from other waste.
Part of the city’s transition strategy includes a plan to create a multi-million dollar renewable energy facility to offset the city’s greenhouse gas emissions from electricity consumption. The plan provides that the plant should go into operation by 2024.
Programs like the solar discount existed before the declaration. When it came to renewing funding, the council’s statement meant all systems were up, Daly says.
Strengthen all people
Empower Me designs energy efficiency and education programs for members of marginalized communities, bridges a void for immigrants and newcomers have historically not benefited from programs, says co-founder Yasmine Abraham.
“Underprivileged and underrepresented groups are hardest hit by the effects of climate change,” said Abraham.
“If you don’t speak English, if you don’t read English very well, if you don’t feel comfortable online, if you don’t like picking up the phone and calling your utility, you don’t know what a discount is.”
As of August 2019, the city has partnered with Empower Me to help over 500 immigrants from the Edmonton area take advantage of these types of programs, says Abraham.
Far enough, fast enough?
As part of the city’s energy transition strategy, the administration will report annually on its implementation. The first update will take place in the second quarter of 2022.
One thing that gives Kaba hope is the city’s implementation of CO2 accounting.
Carbon budgeting of projects and programs will cover the financial cost of carbon emissions and set limits for the city to keep emissions on track with their goals, especially as the city’s population grows.
“We haven’t received the first CO2 budget yet, so it’s a little early,” says Kaba. “But we know we haven’t done enough. To be honest, every single sector in our city must honestly do a lot more to mitigate the significant climate impact.”
Ngae expects other cities to follow Edmonton’s lead in declaring a climate emergency.
“I don’t think we’ll end it until we actually see progress,” says Ngae.
“The reality is that things could get worse before they get better and so I think it could be 2030 or later by the time we actually see cities actually saying they are ending the climate emergency.”