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City committee endorses $87B strategy to reduce Calgary’s emissions by 2050

According to City of Calgary administration, the transition to net-zero is also estimated to result in up to $80 billion in energy savings for Calgarians by 2050. File / Global News

Months after Calgary city council set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, city officials have unveiled an updated strategy in an effort to reach that goal.

After a lengthy discussion, the city’s community development committee voted five to one in favour of endorsing the strategy with just Ward 6 councillor Richard Pootmans opposed.

According to city administration, the “Pathways to 2050” climate strategy aligns the city’s current and future action to the increased scale required to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The 99-page document outlines high-level guiding principles and direction to reach net-zero, a mitigation strategy and an adaptation plan to make Calgary more climate resilient.

If every action in the plan is taken, a city report shows it would require a cumulative investment of $87 billion by 2050, or $3.1 billion annually.

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“They’re staggering numbers and they’re really hard to wrap your head around,” said Ward 11 councillor Kourtney Penner. “What I look at is what are the costs of what we can’t measure and the savings that we talk about from an environmental lens.

“This is a joint investment between all orders of government, between the private sector and between citizens investing into a net-zero future by 2050.”

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

According to the city’s report, the money would go towards mitigation measures like building retrofits, renewable energy and zero emissions mobility.

But city administration said the costs reflected in the report are calculated as a cost to the economy as a whole, and not just to the City of Calgary.

“From a solutions perspective, the city will pursue multiple streams of funding and financing mechanisms to support programs and actions and to continue to leverage funding opportunities,” Dick Ebersohn, the City of Calgary’s climate change and environment manager, told committee.

But he warned committee that inaction on climate change could yield a greater price tag in the future.

“The impact of climate change could result in an average of $2.6 billion in climate risk per year by the 2050s,” Ebersohn said.

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“If we stand by and do nothing, the cost of inaction could ramp up to an average of $7.8 billion per year by the 2080s.”

According to Ebersohn, the transition to net zero is also estimated to result in up to $80 billion in energy savings for Calgarians and a generation of $60 billion in gross domestic product by 2050.

The strategy projects that 40 per cent of total electricity used in Calgary will be generated within city boundaries from renewable sources and a third of residential electricity demand is offset by rooftop solar installations.

It also estimates that all registered vehicles in Calgary will be zero-emissions, 60 per cent of all trips will be by walking or wheeling or transit and that less than five per cent of Calgarians will live more than two kilometres from a transit facility all by the year 2050.

The plan also aims to have all buildings with a net-zero standard by 2050.

Although there is support for the strategy, Frano Cavar with the Calgary Construction Association told committee there are concerns with the costs and timelines around retrofits to existing buildings to be net-zero.

“We believe that new buildings really are the place to start for the new strategy,” Cavar said. “We are concerned that, in the present form, the retrofit construction goals of this strategy are untenable.”

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

Cavar was one of several speakers in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting that voiced their support for the strategy.

There were also representatives from Calgary Economic Development, Fridays for Future, Sustainable Calgary as well as the Calgary Climate Hub.

The Calgary Climate Hub brought forward several suggestions to bolster the strategy, including prioritizing support for transit projects like the Green Line and electrification of Calgary Transit’s bus fleet, requiring ENMAX commit to net-zero electricity generation by 2035 and achieving a 16 per cent tree canopy across the city by 2030.

“If we fail, the planet fails, and the thing that’s important now is speed,” Calgary Climate Hub co-founder Dr. Joe Vipond told committee. “Winning slowly is the same as losing.”

The “Pathways to 2050” climate strategy will now go to city council next week for a final debate and vote.

Penner told reporters that other city departments like Calgary Transit will be bringing forward their own climate policies to add to the overall strategy.

Another report called “The Corporate Greenhouse Gas and Energy Plan” — which focuses on city-owned buildings and assets — will be brought forward to committee at the end of June.

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