Wellington North council gets preview of county climate change mitigation plan

WELLINGTON NORTH – Council members here got a preview of the County of Wellington’s Climate Change Mitigation Plan on Jan. 11.

“This plan identifies the energy use in the county associated with greenhouse gas emissions and provides some recommendations on reducing the emissions and energy use,” explained county climate change coordinator Karen Chisholme in a presentation to council.

Chisholme said the plan, developed over the last 18 months, provides outlines how member municipalities can work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

She noted changes in temperature and precipitation will be among the most noticeable impacts of climate change locally.

“I think these two are the ones we are going to be feeling the most and the ones I think most people are familiar with,” she said.

“Were expecting an increase in the average annual temp over time.

“Also in the number of days annually that are higher than 30 degrees Celsius. That can have some concerns for heat-related illnesses.”

In the coming years this region will see an increase in average annual precipitation and shorter return periods for extreme weather events.

Chisholme said the increased frequency of extreme weather “is something our conservation authorities are watching and modelling.”

Increased storm intensity is expected to be another noticeable result of climate change.

“So the storms will be very short in duration but we’ll also see an increase in intensity,” said Chisholme.

Changes to the freeze/thaw cycle can also be expected, impacting everything from water main breaks for municipalities to dealing with to lower crop yields for agriculture.

Climate change is also expected to create a habitat more acceptable to a variety of “pests” which will also impact crop yields, Chisholme noted.

More severe erosion issues will complicate road maintenance for municipalities, leading to higher insurance premiums, while farmers will face soil preservation issues, she pointed out.

Ice damage to trees, more problems with invasive species, increased nutrients and sediment in water ways, and an increase in algae presence are all anticipated environmental impacts of a changing climate.

Chisholme noted recreation “may be of more concern to our municipalities rather than the county,” but warmer temperatures will increase the cost of operating ice rinks and other facilities.

“Well also see a decreasing opportunity for outdoor skating, skiing, ice fishing, all of those winter sports, as we won’t have the same snow accumulation,” she noted.

“And we’ll also see lower water during the summer drought.”

Chisholme said climate change must be dealt with through both mitigation and adaption.

While mitigation (reducing greenhouse gases) will help municipalities “avoid the unmanageable,” adaptation – adjustments to natural or human systems – will be required to “manage the unavoidable.”

In developing the plan, Chisholme said the county followed the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Five Milestone Framework and has received funding to complete the first three milestones:

  • creating an emissions inventory and forecast;
  • target setting; and
  • development of a local action plan.

Implementation and monitoring are the fourth and fifth milestones in the framework.

Pulling the plan together has been a collaborative effort, said Chisholme.

A steering committee – consisting of Ian Roger of Guelph-Eramosa, Sara Bailey and Michael Mullen of Puslinch, Sam Mattina of Mapleton, Gordon Duff of Minto and Adam McNabb of Wellington North – received input from a community advisory group that included representatives of local industry, conservation authorities and area utilities.

“We had a very diverse group that provided input,” said Chisholme.

“In total we had just under 480 people engaged in the development of this plan.”

Targets for the plan were modelled after agreements and commitments made by other levels of government, including the federal commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or the Paris Accord, which calls for a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 emission levels by 2030.

The organization Partners in Climate Protection advocates for communities to adopt a 6% drop from a designated baseline year over a 10-year period.

The county has chosen 2017 as its base year for reduction planning, said Chisholme.

“And that’s because we have a relatively complete data set for that year,” she explained.

“What I think we’ll see in the plan is something that well aligns with the future of a net-zero goal for 2050 with some consideration for both the Paris agreement and the Partners in Climate Consideration” targets, said Chisholme.

She added, “It really does take a village to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” noting that all levels of government and all sectors of society can play a role.

However, Chisholme said, “Municipalities have control of about 44% of greenhouse gases in Canada and so we do have an ability to not only reduce our own emissions, but also implement emissions reductions at the local level.”

Reductions can be implemented through tools like active transportation plans, development policies and community incentive programs, all of which will be elements of the county plan, she noted.

Local climate action plans can also play a part if member municipalities are interested.

“Some of the municipalities have expressed interest in following the same process at the more local level,” said Chisholme.

“And there are some gains to be made there, with more specific data at that local level.

“Because of our jurisdictional spit there are some areas where our member municipalities may be able to provide more specific and tailored recommendations and actions that aren’t captured specifically in the recommendations of the county plan.”

Chisholme told council the plan is currently being reviewed by county staff and is expected to go to the planning committee in early February.

Barring any concerns, the plan will also be presented to Wellington County council in February.

Councillor Dan Yake asked what municipalities can do on a daily basis “to start to address some of these issues.”

He said, “We’re looking at 2050 and 2030 – those timelines aren’t very far away and unless we really start to take it serious as a local municipality then the country will never meet those targets.

“So what are some of the things that we should be doing or talking about as a council?”

Chisholme replied, “I think one of the things I’ll be working on with the county is to embed climate change action within all of our policies.”

For example, the procurement policy “may include the requirement for those that we do business with to address certain climate targets and action.”

Asset management planning is another area where climate change policy can be integrated.

“Those are two big ones, but there are others as well,” said Chisholme, noting building retrofits and transportation plans can be adapted for energy efficiencies.

The county will also be working with the Grand River Conservation Authority through its water quality program to make an impact.

“There’s lot of crossover with climate change action,” said Chisholme

“As far as how do we get the community on board, I think there’s going to be a lot of education and engagement needed to do that.

“And that’s something that we will be looking at … how to best engage with each of the communities and meet their concerns.”

Mayor Andy Lennox thanked Chisholme for the presentation.

“We look forward to hearing some of the next steps and how we can participate,” said Lennox.