City of Calgary climate goals need updating but net zero still possible

Pandemic entry precautions have been lifted at Calgary city hall as of July 21, 2021. Dani Lantela/Global News/File

The City of Calgary has made some progress addressing climate change in past years, but much work has yet to be done, according to two city councillors.

Outgoing Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell said the latest report on the state of global warming from the United Nations panel on climate change (IPCC) was no surprise, except for the urgency of the situation.

Read more: ‘Code red for humanity’: Climate change spiraling out of control, U.N. report says

Read next: Parents abandon their ticketless baby at Israeli airport check-in

Dick Ebersohn, the City of Calgary manager of climate change and environment, called the IPCC report “absolutely shocking.”

It painted a grim picture of how much and how “unequivocally” humans have already and will likely change the climate for the next century, and projects a global increase of 1.5 C to happen by 2040, a full decade earlier than previously thought.

Story continues below advertisement

“I think a lot of… scientists thought we had a little bit more time to act,” Farrell told Global News.

“And we realized that the climate crisis is happening now and it’s accelerating. So we don’t have the luxury of inaction — we need to act now.”

The report released Monday called for rapid and large-scale action to reduce emissions, including the need for all orders of government to act on what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “code red for humanity.”

“The alarm bells are deafening,” Guterres said in a statement.

Read more: U.N. climate change report: Here are the key takeaways

Read next: Young couple who danced in viral video handed lengthy jail sentence in Iran

Farrell has been campaigning on the need to address climate change at a municipal level since first being elected to office 20 years ago.

She said that while there are still climate deniers in the outgoing city council, she identified one moment when she found a change in attitude around city hall.

“I think it was when we started hearing the children coming to speak at council and talking about their future,” Farrell said.

“It was very hard to ignore when kids are coming up to the podium and talking about the concern that they have for a viable future and the ability for them to have children and live in a healthy planet — that was hard to ignore.”

Story continues below advertisement

Farrell has been documenting how managers across city departments are addressing climate change in regular blog posts.

Hot, wet, dry, windy threats

According to the city’s disaster risk assessment, the greatest climate hazards Calgary faces as a result of global warming include extreme heat, drought, wildfire, heavy precipitation, winter storms, severe storms including hail and tornadoes, river flooding and shifting seasonality.

Calgary city council unanimously approved the Climate Resiliency Strategy in 2018, with a top-line goal of reducing 80 per cent of 2005 City of Calgary emissions by 2050.

Cities like Hamilton, Vancouver, Guelph, Toronto, Halifax, Quebec and Edmonton have pledged to reach net-zero by 2050, with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver also signing on to the Net-Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration.

Read more: Climate change might be spiraling out of control. What does that mean for Canada?

Read next: Pink pigeon found in NYC may have been dyed for gender reveal party

Monday’s IPCC report said net-zero-by-2050 pledges aren’t enough to start reducing the level of greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere, most being carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

Farrell still thinks Calgary’s goal — a goal that’s been reduced from a previous one — isn’t enough, calling it “very modest.”

“If we want to not be a pariah in this world, if we want to take responsibility for our children and our grandchildren, we need to get more aggressive,” Farrell said Monday.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Climate change spiraling out of control, UN report says'
Climate change spiraling out of control, UN report says

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who is seeking re-election in the October election, agrees it’s time to revisit that goal of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions.

“I think that you’re going to see that get seriously revamped moving into the next four year budget (cycle),” Carra told Global News.

“I think (city) administration is fully on board, and the question is: what kind of leadership are we going to get from the new council?”

The city already has a number of mitigation and adaptation strategies underway, stemming from the Climate Resiliency Plan.

The plan addresses areas like building and energy systems, transportation, consumption and waste, infrastructures, water management and governance.

A sprawling challenge

For Carra, a sustainable urban design consultant by trade, the challenge Calgary faces in reducing emissions is systemic.

Story continues below advertisement

“The problem, of course, is our built form,” Carra said Monday.

“We have more roads per capita than almost any other place on the planet — certainly any other place the size we are — which makes it very convenient to get around town in a car. We are among the lowest population density per square foot in the municipality,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Climate change, pandemic are major factors in rising grocery store bills'
Climate change, pandemic are major factors in rising grocery store bills

“And the two single biggest things that are driving climate change are our transportation habits — the fact that we drive way too much, especially with the internal combustion engine. And then, of course, the built form of the city.”

A city of spread out communities and structures usually requires vehicular transportation, often fossil-fueled.

Transportation is the single largest sector of emissions in the city at 32 per cent, with commercial buildings second at 30 per cent, residences at 29 per cent, and industrial at eight per cent.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Cutting methane emissions key to slowing climate change: U.N. report

Read next: Femcels: Inside the enigmatic subculture of involuntary celibate women

The city is launching a green fleet strategy, Ebersohn said, which follows pilot programs that include all-electric garbage trucks, alternate fleet fuels and even electric ice resurfacers (better known as Zambonis).

“The single biggest thing that Calgary can do, according to our climate plan, is to electrify the entire fleet of automobiles in the city on the proviso that, that electrification is coming from greener and greener sources,” Carra said.

Changing power

Enmax, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the City of Calgary and the city’s largest electricity provider, has committed to net zero by 2050. It plans to achieve that through things like increasing the efficiency of gas-powered generators, increasing solar- and wind-powered generation, hybridizing turbines and purchasing carbon offset credits.

Read more: Electric-gas turbine hybrid begins powering Calgary

Read next: Suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying over U.S., won’t be shot down: Pentagon

“We are working now with a number of organizations on what other things we can do like carbon capture, like sequestration, and it’s early days for those initiatives,” Enmax CEO Wayne O’Connor said at its June 29 AGM.

“But I have no doubt in the years ahead, we’re going to find solutions that will allow us to greatly reduce the emissions from our existing fleet.”

Story continues below advertisement

More than 99 per cent of Enmax’s carbon emissions come from that fleet of generators.

The utility also recently announced using goats as environmentally-friendly grounds maintenance and a community solar fund for solar installations at community halls throughout the city.

Adapting to climate change

As a response to the June 2020 hailstorm that caused more than a billion dollars in insured damage, the city launched the resilient roofing rebate program, helping homeowners afford an upgrade to roofing material.

That’s just one way the city can help Calgarians with adaptation to a changed climate.

Ebersohn said the report gives more certainty to governments like the City of Calgary.

Click to play video: 'Climate scientist Katharine Hayoe speaks on what Western Canada’s heat means for climate change'
Climate scientist Katharine Hayoe speaks on what Western Canada’s heat means for climate change

“Previously, (the IPCC) were calibrating their models, and so there was a degree of uncertainty,” Ebersohn said. “The certainty has increased so much that they can actually say definitively what will happen.”

Story continues below advertisement

Ebersohn said it’s critical to understand how a 1.5 or 2 C increase in global average temperatures will manifest in Calgary, and is preparing a report for city council in the fall. He said those projections will help understand the potential magnitude and effect of increased climate hazards.

“We’re currently piloting a process where climate assessments on different infrastructure pieces to understand how that will work and then the possibility of making some adjustments to those assets that we have.”

With more than 60 per cent of all emissions coming from city buildings, Ebersohn said work is already underway to reduce building emissions and add climate resiliency. New city-owned buildings must meet the sustainable building policy, with retrofits to older buildings presenting a different challenge.

“We look at, what are the most efficient ways to actually bring energy efficiency to (a particular) building and, of course, from a cost perspective, we have to be clever and project out (to identify) when do we see a return on that investment,” Ebersohn said.

Federal and provincial funds have helped with some of those retrofits.

Achieving net zero

The city’s climate change and environment lead said new strategies are needed to reach the city’s 80 per cent or even net zero goal by 2050.

Story continues below advertisement

“We are actually building in that net zero target and actually creating a four- and 10-year strategy,” Ebersohn said Monday, noting an updated climate resiliency plan will come forward in Q2 of 2022.

“I can tell you that our projections show we can (reach net zero). It will take a lot of effort and a lot of money, and therefore this is not something that a city does by its own.”

A climate advocate on council for two decades, Farrell said there’s still time to avoid a climate disaster in light of the IPCC report.

“I think the biggest danger right now is for people to say it’s too late: it’s not too late,” Farrell said.

“Yes, we are in a climate emergency. We’re experiencing climate change now, but if we don’t act, it could get worse.”

–with files from Reuters

Sponsored content