Debate over $87B City of Calgary climate strategy postponed until July

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Debate on Calgary climate strategy postponed
Calgary city councillors will have to wait another month to debate how the city will get to net-zero emissions by 2050. Adam MacVicar reports. – Jun 7, 2022

City councillors will have to wait another month to debate Calgary’s strategy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Pathways to 2050 climate strategy was debated and endorsed by the city’s Community Development Committee last week and forwarded to city council for a final say.

But at Tuesday’s meeting of council, Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong pushed to delay the debate to July 5 as he and Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott had to leave the meeting in the afternoon to travel to Toronto on city business.

Wong said he has heard feedback from constituents about the 99-page strategy along with questions about its $87 billion price tag.

“The questions around the economics weren’t very clear the other day,” Wong told reporters. “Were the questions we raised the other day good questions? Yes. Did we get enough answers? No. So they are looking forward to more of that balanced perspective of economics versus environment.”

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The strategy outlines high-level guiding principles and direction for Calgary to reach net-zero by 2050, which includes a mitigation strategy and an adaptation plan to make the city more climate-resilient.

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

City administration said that money would not just be shouldered by the City of Calgary and taxpayers alone, but calculated it as a cost to the economy as a whole, including funding from other levels of government and the private sector.

Wong said that wasn’t properly communicated during the first debate on the strategy.

“Some people made the assumption, particularly on social media, that the $87 billion is city taxpayer money and that is not the case,” Wong said. “That didn’t come out very clearly in the committee meeting, that’s something we need to discuss and debate in a full session.”

The plan is also estimated to save more than $80 billion in energy costs.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner raised concerns about delaying debate on the document after a lengthy discussion at committee last week.

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“There was ample time to come on (May 31) to ask questions about the dollar figures, about the strategy, about the scope,” Penner told council. “So I struggle with this deferral and I struggle with the ask that we haven’t had time to debate it because it has been there.”

Calgary’s mayor also raised concerns about the message sent with the delay, with the Global Energy Show being held in the city this week and the climate emergency declaration by council last year.

“What message are we sending to the world? Who is here in our city watching us be leaders in energy transformation?  Well, the message that some of my colleagues sent today is ‘meh, this can wait,'” Jyoti Gondek said. “That is not driving investor confidence and I hope they get what they need out of that July 5 meeting.”

In anticipation of the discussion on the climate strategy, a group of around 40 climate activists rallied on the front steps of city hall to show their support for the initiative.

Members of the Calgary Climate Hub said they hope the month-long delay can help the city make the strategy, and its costs, more easily understandable for Calgarians.

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“I have concerns about that number too, it needs to be clearly defined so people can understand it better,” Calgary Climate Hub director Angela McIntyre said. “The truth is, we cannot make a municipal decision without it being a climate decision.”

Others in attendance were less concerned with the postponement and have their sights set on budget deliberations later this year when city council will set the financial plan for the city for the next four years.

“All of the hard work and hard decisions are going to be made in the budget process,” said Christine Laing with the Calgary Alliance for Common Good. “You need hard rules, you need hard money and those come with really hard decisions about where you put resources and how you allocate them.

“So for the strategy to be anything other than a gesture, a lot of decisions are going to have to be made subsequent to its passing.”

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