City needs to rise to the challenge of climate change

Serious action needed to cut carbon emissions

Illustration by Luis Mamani Rojas

The City of Winnipeg is failing to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goal.

In 2009, council set a greenhouse gas emissions target of 43,055 tonnes of carbon dioxide from municipal sources, 40 per cent below the city’s 1998 levels.

In 2013, the last time municipal government carbon emissions were checked, the city emitted 71,832 tonnes of CO2.

Currently, this puts the city 67 per cent over its target, moving in the wrong direction by increasing emissions since 2007.

The 2009 target was set by the city after it “achieved” its goal of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from 1998 levels on paper by selling the municipally owned Winnipeg Hydro to Manitoba Hydro. This took all the company’s carbon emissions off the city’s books.

Awkward accounting aside, there are many flaws in the city’s efforts from 1998 onwards to reduce emissions.

As the Climate Change Working Group’s recent final report to the city’s executive policy committee notes, there is no timeframe for emission reductions.

Cities that have met their emission-reduction targets, such as Vancouver and Toronto, set clear dates for when reductions are to be met. Furthermore, these cities break their targets down into short, medium and long-term goals, while dedicating staff to climate efforts.

Winnipeg does none of this.

Climate change is an existential threat to the human species and needs to be addressed with serious measures.

A 2004 forecast published in Global Environmental Change shows that much of the globe could experience steep declines in cereal grain production by the 2050s, with Canada facing modest declines. This means an 18-year-old today may live to see significant food price hikes and shortages in developed countries by the time they reach middle age.

Global warming of near 2 C above preindustrial levels by 2100 would have drastic consequences. In under 200 years, it could flood areas of Canada that are home to 737,000 people.

The Canadian government acknowledged the need to get carbon emissions under control, ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement. Canada set reduction goals of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Cities globally contribute 70 per cent of emissions, so urban areas are a crucial part of stopping climate change. This reveals another flaw with the Winnipeg city government’s plan to cut emissions: there are only plans for government reductions.

City government emissions account for one per cent of total Winnipeg emissions. Council set a community-wide target for CO2 emissions to six per cent below 1998 levels but has no practical plan for accomplishing it.

The municipal government, after setting its 2009 target, and even after setting its 1998 target, failed to make climate action a priority. That needs to change.

The city should adopt obvious steps mentioned by their Climate Change Working Group, such as setting a timetable for reductions and dedicating full-time staff to climate issues. Policies like the city’s growth fees might help with community-wide emission cuts by encouraging less car-dependent development.

The municipal government goal of CO2 emissions 10 per cent lower than 1998 levels by 2022 is very modest. While getting the administrative infrastructure in place to meet serious, time-based targets will be work, there are many measures that the city can take in the next five years to curb local government greenhouse emissions.

The city should expand on measures like its experimentation with electric buses along Route 20. This could easily be extended to other routes. Furthermore, strategies to encourage more transit use would reduce community-wide car emissions.

Dylon Martin is a University of Winnipeg economics graduate interested in public policy issues.

Published in Volume 71, Number 21 of The Uniter (February 22, 2017)

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