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City OKs draft plan to get to zero emissions by 2050

High-level document goes out for public consultations before final version ready in 2020
An ambitious, multi-billion dollar roadmap to get Greater Sudbury to virtually zero carbon emissions by 2050 passed its first hurdle Tuesday when city council approved a draft plan that has been in the works since 2017. (Stock)

An ambitious, multi-billion dollar roadmap to get Greater Sudbury to virtually zero carbon emissions by 2050 passed its first hurdle Tuesday when city council approved a draft plan that has been in the works since 2017.

Stephen Monet, who heads up environmental planning initiatives for the city, presented the document alongside Jennifer Babin-Fenske, co-ordinator of EarthCare Sudbury, and Sajeev Shivshankaran, the city's energy and facilities engineer.

Monet said several other cities in Ontario already have their Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) in place. 

“Now it’s our turn,” Monet said.

In 2016, the city generated 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Current initiatives in place should see that reduced to 1.2 million by 2050, but several steps will have to be taken to reduce it to zero, Monet said.

The highest source of carbon is gasoline (37 per cent), followed by natural gas (27 per cent), diesel (10 per cent) and emissions from landfills (10 per cent).

Strategies to reduce carbon emissions include intensification, in which residential and other developments are clustered closer together to reduce the amount of travel residents have to do. 

It will also help achieve another goal – increasing use of city transit from the current four per cent rate to 25 per cent by 2050.

New housing will have to meet much higher energy efficiency standards by 2030, and retrofits of existing buildings to increase energy efficiency by 50 per cent should be completed by 2040.

Other steps to reach zero emissions include diverting 90 per cent of waste into recycling and composting programs and away from the landfill by 2030, using only electric transit vehicles by 2035, and having all new vehicles be electric by 2030.

The plan also calls for a big increase in local power sources, and the capacity to store 50 megawatts of power generated here.

Monet said the 30-year plan will be reviewed and updated every five years, to ensure the city is taking advantage of new technologies.

“A net zero emissions target by 2050 is very ambitious,” he said, but it is part of council's direction when they declared a climate change emergency earlier this year.

The cost of plan is roughly $6.5 billion, but the break-even point – when cost savings match expenditures – is 2026, with net saving forecast to reach $14.6 billion by 2050, when roughly 40,000 hours of new employment will be generated. 

“The CEEP is a local employment generator,” Monet said.

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini questioned the plan, arguing it was more aspirational than a real roadmap.

“Are we just declaring it and then figuring out how we’ll get there?” Vagnini said. “To declare something without a plan in place is like saying everyone should have a million dollars in their bank account but no plan how to get it there.”

And Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan questioned whether council would actually implement the plan. He compared it to their infrastructure renewal plan, which calls for tax increases to fund it – ones councillors have refused to implement. 

“Here, we're talking about $6 billion,” Kirwan said. “It’s one thing to say we’re going to reduce emissions, its another to say we’re going to get to zero in 30 years.”

But Monet said while the draft plan is relatively high level, the modelling and projections about what we need to do to reduce emissions is detailed. By reviewing it every five years, it will allow them to take advantage of new technologies that help them reach their goal.

“It’s not a wishful thinking type of plan,” he said. “But let’s not pull any punches – this is an ambitious plan. It will be challenging.”

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh said the onus isn't just on council – developers have been involved in the planning, as well as the public. “It’s up to all of us, not just the municipality.”

“It’s a community plan – we can’t do something like this on our own,” she said.

They are developing partnerships with other municipalities – some of which are ahead of them in their planning. Babin-Fenske said their a network across the province in place that works to coordinate efforts and share best practices.

McIntosh said she was impressed by plans to capture natural gas emitted from landfills and use it to generate local power.

“Holy circular.”

City CAO Ed Archer said the plan is a guide toward meeting emissions targets in council's climate change resolution.

“The absence of a plan right now makes the goal really challenging to accomplish,” Archer said. “This (CEEP) offers direction.”

And while the upfront costs are intimidating, he said it's important to remember the net savings over the life of the plan, in addition to the benefits to residents.

Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo said when regreening efforts started in the city decades ago, the plan was also derided as unrealistic.

“But now we’re a global success story,” he said.

“I know a lot of people in the community will look at this and just get frightened,” said Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier. “But the option to do nothing is not an option.”

And even if the city falls short of the goal, at least they will be far more likely to have made more progress than if they adopted a more timid plan.  

“I don’t want to be held back over the fear of failure -- that would be the worst thing we could do as community leaders,” Cormier said. 

He said the U.S. landed on the moon “notwithstanding the good, smart people who said it was impossible.

“The best time to do something (about climate change) is now ...
If we’re serious about this, these are the sorts of things we’ll have to do.”

And Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said she can remember when the air was so bad in the city, you could taste sulphur in your mouth. Now we have some of the cleanest air in the province.

“Who would have thought?”

The draft plan was approved, with only Vagnini and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier voting no. Public consultations will be held in December and January, before it is finalized by the middle of 2020.

Read the full draft plan here.