Quesnel city councillors met Kyle Aben, the City’s new carbon review co-ordinator, at their Aug. 27 council meeting.
Aben has been the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions manager at the University of British Columbia, a climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, an instructor at the University of Northern British Columbia in carbon accounting and energy management, and a visiting tutor in carbon accounting at Quest University.
“From my perspective, climate change is one of the greatest threats we face,” Aben told council.
In his presentation to council, Aben explained that the City’s goal is to keep climate change under 1.5 degrees, and he spoke about the connection between climate change and health.
Aben explained that the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) at the University of Victoria has shown that, based on the city’s 1961-1990 baseline, by 2050, Quesnel will see a 1.8-degree rise in temperature and a six-per-cent increase in precipitation. The PCIC shows seven per cent less precipitation in summer, seven per cent more precipitation in winter, nine per cent less snowfall in winter and 55 per cent less snowfall in spring, as well as an additional 23 frost-free days by 2050.
Aben says the impacts predicted for the Cariboo region include a decrease in snowpack, an increase in temperatures, high-intensity precipitation events, a longer dry season, a change in agricultural productivity, waterlogged soil, and possible increased flooding events.
In the face of this, Aben says the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) wants municipal governments to measure their maturity in dealing with climate change. The FCM Maturity Scale for Climate Change Mitigation is part of the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP). Milestones in the program are focused around policy for climate planning, human resources and governance, and technical capacity for emissions reductions.
In the MCIP, there are five milestones that FCM wants municipalities to hit.
The first milestone is to create a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory for the municipality and for the community, which Aben says the City of Quesnel has already done.
The second milestone is to set a GHG emissions target for the City corporate and for the community.
Aben says traditionally in Quesnel, the community target has been set equal to the Province’s target. In the last nine years, Quesnel has seen a reduction of 0.26 per cent in its emissions for the community as a whole. Aben says the Province has set new goals and wants to see 2007 emissions levels reduced by 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.
Some of the direction Aben will be looking for from council will be if the target for the City’s corporate emissions should be carbon neutrality, matching the Province, or an annual three-per-cent reduction.
Aben says the City as a corporation has seen an estimated eight-per-cent reduction in GHG from 2007 to 2018, but it’s been mainly related to electricity.
The third milestone in the MCIP is to develop a local action plan to reduce emissions, which would be for the City and for the community.
“The local action plan development will be the crux of my work here, I think,” Aben told council.
The plan will identify activities to reduce GHG emissions, and Aben says one activity he has uncovered so far is household organics composting.
“I believe if we divert our organics, we can divert what’s going to the landfill by 40 per cent,” he said, noting this may postpone the need for a landfill gas capture system and would extend the life of the landfill by 12 years.
Another idea is a district bioenergy system, which Aben says has been worked on locally before, but it didn’t go through, and he would like to have a discussion with council about refreshing that initiative. He says this system would utilize the community’s own resources, be less dependent on geopolitics and global markets, and would provide a stream of revenue for industry and non-tax revenue for the City.
The fourth milestone is implementing the GHG emission reduction projects, and the fifth milestone is monitoring the progress of projects, seeking opportunities for improvement and consulting with stakeholders.
With regard to a timeline, Aben hopes to have the local action plan for emissions reduction projects completed by Feb. 1.
“We’re pretty excited we’ve already been able to do our GHG inventory for the City and the community,” he said.
To be able to get working on this action plan, Aben told council his work depends on the aspirations of council, as they could work toward meeting the minimum requirement for MCIP or really set an aggressive goal — or they could blend the two ways of moving forward.
Aben told council declaring a climate emergency is one of the tools the City could use. The federal government declared a climate emergency on June 18, 2019, and in B.C., 24 local governments have declared a climate emergency.
Mayor Bob Simpson said council will likely have a roundtable discussion about the questions Aben brought up around emissions targets and goals at its first meeting in October.
Simpson also noted the idea of a bioenergy system “fits squarely into the Future of Forestry Think Tank” and is back on the table.
“I think the possibility is there,” he said.
With regard to the idea of composting, Coun. Scott Elliott said he has lived in communities where they do composting as a cost-recovery system, and they sell the compost to people who use it in their gardens.
Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg wondered if declaring a climate emergency could be used as a tool not only to create a sense of urgency, but also to help get grants.
“When I think about our focus on tourism and you see the numbers of less snowpack, less summer … it touches us on many levels,” she said, adding she thinks declaring a climate emergency puts more pressure on the City to show that now that they have declared it, they have to do something about it.
Aben said anecdotally, he didn’t think that kind of declaration would hurt with looking for grants.
“It shows we’re taking action,” he said.