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Getting to net zero: Council backs plan to cut city’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero

Implementation strategy, to be presented in December, will have wide-ranging impacts on city operations, home building and transportation
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Exhaust from vehicles is one of the world’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. (Adobe Stock)

City council has approved the Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) and has directed staff to move on with next steps.

Jennifer Babin-Fenske, co-ordinator of EarthCare Sudbury Initiatives for the City of Greater Sudbury, provided an update for councillors on Tuesday night. She said the CEEP has five goals: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy use, lower costs, mitigate risk, and improve quality of life.

In June 2017, the city was directed to develop a CEEP with the goal of becoming a net-zero emissions community by 2050. But it’s a lofty goal. In 2016, the city generated 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

The CEEP made it abundantly clear that space heating and transportation are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). As such, the biggest impact Sudburians can have is to alter their modes of transportation and increase the energy efficiency of buildings, especially residential buildings, Babin-Fenske said.

“Electrifying vehicles and energy efficient home retrofits are some of the actions that can help achieve a net-zero community by 2050, but there are dozens of recommendations within the CEEP that can be used for guiding the community toward that goal,” she said. “It’s a diverse plan, and we can all play a role in some way.”

Energy efficient buildings could mean people will have to alter their lifestyles to some degree and build new homes using materials and techniques that minimize emissions of GHGs, Fenske said. Furthermore, choosing to drive electric vehicles will have the biggest impact on emissions.

After the draft CEEP was presented to council, stakeholders and the public in November 2019, the city received feedback through a variety of means, and commissioned a local phone survey on climate change and environmental issues.

“The results were very informative and encouraging, with 82 per cent of respondents saying they are concerned about climate change,” Babin-Fenske said. “As well, 79 per cent said they support the city in its climate emergency declaration, while 73 per cent said they can play a role in reducing emissions and effects on climate change.

“This is a community plan, and this community has been working on reducing emissions for more than 20 years. The CEEP will focus our efforts moving forward.”

Within the city’s own operation, various divisions are undertaking their own initiatives linked to the CEEP, she said. The city has started construction of the Paris-Notre Dame Bikeway, as well as the conversion of all street lights to LED dark-sky-friendly lighting. 

With 20 per cent of municipal staff working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and if that becomes the norm, that alone has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 500 tonnes in one year, Babin-Fenske said.

The city will also develop a climate lens for decision-making, meaning as projects are brought forward, those decisions must start taking climate change into account, she said. 

“That lens will help in the decision-making process to examine the impacts of each project moving forward,” she said.

The city is also in the pre-approval stage for Federation of Canadian Municipalities funding for programs such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy program for residential retrofits.

The project management team has been in communication with other municipalities regarding strategies and measures they are taking, and has been working with city directors to identify projects linked to the CEEP.

Moving toward implementation, there are some considerations to keep in mind, she said.

“There are uncertainties with some of the recommendations, as the CEEP has a 30-year timeframe, and we aren’t sure what technology will be coming our going, and what new funding opportunities there will be,” Babin-Fenske said.

That’s why the management team is working in five-year increments, with the current phase being Phase 1. They will present their implementation strategy for Phase 1 at the Dec. 15 council meeting.

“We’re very encouraged that our community is on board,” Babin-Fenske said. “Through the recovery of our landscape, we’ve proven as a community we can make significant improvements in our environment, our business operations and our personal lives.”

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh said the CEEP is a plan for the entire community, and getting to net-zero is a huge undertaking.

“It’s important to note what we’ve already accomplished through hard work and investments,” McIntosh said. “In 2018, we celebrated 40 years of regreening, we’ve increased transit ridership by 12 per cent between August 2019 and February 2020, and new water meters are being installed across the city.”

Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier quoted an authority who once said you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. He said it’s initiatives like the CEEP that that quote speaks to. 

“I’ve heard from members of the community, some of whom ask about the cost of things like this, and my response is always the same: the cost of not taking actions like this is far greater than the investments going forward in this initiative. I look forward to the next steps.”

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Atlmann said the CEEP is exciting, but she wants the message to go out to the city’s youngest residents.

“Our kids need to be made aware of this great program and what it means to them,” she said. “It’s important to bring them in on this, and that it is introduced in school curriculums. It’s important to make them aware of what we are doing, because our children will be the biggest benefactors of the CEEP. they are the ones who will be living through its results.”

Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland said the CEEP could be the most important thing council will do.

“It’s a great lens, and we understand so much more about the specifics about what makes a difference, and I hope we can take action on many of these items in the weeks and months ahead. Let’s get to work. Dealing with climate change is most likely the most important thing we will likely deal with in our entire lifetimes.”