City looks to cut community-wide greenhouse gas emissions

City council set new greenhouse gas reduction targets for its own operations and the community at large on Monday night as part of a broader climate change mitigation plan.

The plan calls for a five per cent reduction below 2017 levels to both city and community emissions by 2025, a 50 per cent reduction by 2040 and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. The plan also calls for the city to reduce its own emissions by 17 per cent by 2030, and community emissions by 12 per cent by the same year.

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"Local governments have a significant role to play in climate change," said Gina Layte-Liston, city director of infrastructure and public works. "The actions identified in the plan are intended to reduce the impact of a changing climate. The actions have many economic, social and public health benefits."

While city operations contribute only one per cent of the community's total emissions, Layte-Liston said, the city can influence up to 40 per cent of community emissions through transportation and land use planning, waste management, building design, promoting renewable energy use and public policy.

The city had no formal emission reduction goals prior to council's adoption of the plan on Monday night. The city's last set of emission targets were adopted in 2007 and called for the city to reduce its emissions by 10 per cent below 2002 levels by 2012, and for a community-wide reduction of emissions by two per cent below 2002 levels by the same year.

"The corporate and community (greenhouse gas) targets were not met," Layte-Liston said. "Much of that was due to an increase in gasoline and diesel usage during that time."

Instead of reducing emissions, the city's emissions rose by an estimated seven per cent by 2012 and by 9.5 per cent by 2017. During the same period, community emissions increased by an estimated 0.8 per cent by 2012 and 3.9 per cent by 2017.

The city estimated its operations emitted the equivalent of 8,152 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017, about one per cent of all emissions in the city. 

Community emissions, excluding industrial operations regulated by the province, were estimated at the equivalent of 550,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Those were estimated to make up 40 per cent of the total emitted by the city, with heavy industry making up the remaining 59 per cent.

Vehicle emissions made up 52 per cent of community emissions, followed by heat and electricity for homes at 25 per cent, commercial and light industry made up 13 per cent, and the remaining 10 per cent was the result of the breakdown of solid waste at the landfill.

The impact of climate change has already been felt in Prince George, Layte-Liston said.

"Municipalities in the north are facing an accelerated rate of climate change," she said.

Between 1942 and 2018, the city has seen the number of days per year below -25 C drop from an average of 25 per winter to only seven. Average winter temperatures are now 2.8 C warmer than in 1942, and minimum winter temperatures have increased an average of nine degrees Celsius, based on Environment Canada data.

The city has also seen its winter precipitation drop by 40.5 per cent, and summer precipitation is down 28.5 per cent.

The result is warmer winters and hotter, dryer summers, Layte-Liston said.

Forecasting the city's climate in the future shows mean annual temperatures rising nearly two degrees by 2050, compared to the average baseline taken from 1976 to 2005. By 2080 the city's mean annual temperature could be 3.7 C warmer – rising from the baseline of 3.9 C to 7.6 C.

That increase in mean annual temperature would mean the average number of days above 30 C would rise from one per year currently to seven by 2050 and 18 by 2080. 

Likewise the average number of days per year below -30 C would decrease from 3.7 per year to 1.2 per year by 2050, and 0.5 per year by 2080.

The models also predicts more frost-free days and an increase in annual precipitation, along with more extreme precipitation events, higher forest fire risk and greater risk of flooding.

Climate change is also expected to hit city residents in their wallets, Layte-Liston said. The city report quoted a report by the National Roundtable on the Environment and the

Economy, which estimated the physical effects of climate change could cost

the Canadian economy as much as $34 billion per year by 2050.

In addition, the city estimated that in 2017 an average of $3,300 per person was spent on energy – costing Prince George residents, businesses and institutions a total of $247 million, the majority of which left the community.

Actions aimed at energy efficiency would reduce those costs, save residents and local businesses money, and keep that money in the local economy, Layte-Liston said.

The current plan was prepared following multiple stakeholder engagement sessions in 2018 and 2019, and a public survey that received 800 responses, Layte-Liston said.

Following Monday's decision by council, city staff will begin work on a costed five-year work plan that will lay out the specific next steps for the city, she said.

"What we're hoping for is by the end of December to bring it back," Layte-Liston said. "We want it to be involved in the 2021 budgeting process. Any of the actions that deal with the public, or would have budgetary implications, would come back to council."

Some of the actions under consideration for the city's five-year action plan include developing an electric vehicle strategy, working with BC Transit to convert city buses to low-carbon fuel, amending parking requirements for buildings to include bicycle parking and electric vehicle charging stations, conduct energy audits on the city's buildings and infrastructure, consider requiring higher energy standards for new construction, investigate ways to divert organic material from the landfill, look at ways to create more supply and demand for renewable energy options, and conduct a green fleet analysis.

Council voted unanimously in supporting the plan.

"It certainly has my support," Coun. Murray Krause said. "I look forward to seeing the five-year work plan."

Not all members of council were as supportive, however.

Coun. Cori Ramsay said some of the items up for consideration, like possibly reducing the speed limit downtown to 30 km/h, could result in public backlash.

Canada only contributes two per cent of global emissions, Coun. Brian Skakun said, and while Canada can try to set a good example it won't mean anything unless major players like the Americans and Chinese change their ways.

In the mean time, the cost of climate change mitigation will fall on local taxpayers, he said.

"The federal government wants to set these targets. They might come up with some grants, but they're not going to cover anything close to the costs," Skakun said.

The full report on the plan can be found online here:

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