2020 emissions target won't be met, municipal report finds 

As GHG emissions continue to increase, where is the sense of urgency?

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE - EMISSION MISSION Passenger vehicles remain the biggest contributor to emissions in Whistler.
  • PHOTO by Clare Ogilvie
  • EMISSION MISSION Passenger vehicles remain the biggest contributor to emissions in Whistler.

Sixteen months after adopting the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), is the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) back on track to meeting its climate goals?

Not according to a report to council at its Dec. 5 meeting outlining Whistler's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for 2016.

In fact, not only has the community been off pace on its GHG reduction targets (33 per cent by 2020, 80 per cent by 2050 and 90 per cent by 2060 compared to 2007 levels) since 2014, the last three years have seen an average increase of 4.9 per cent.

The backwards trend has eroded Whistler's previous reduction gains — achieved largely through one-off projects like the piped propane to natural gas conversion and landfill cap and capture projects — from -20.8 per cent in 2013 to just -8.7 per cent last year.

Energy consumption followed a similar trend, with year-over-year increases since 2014 after three years of consistent reduction. Total energy consumption was about 3.22 million gigajoules in 2016 — up three per cent from 2007 and 5.6 per cent year over year.

While total emissions continue to rise, 2016's estimated GHG emissions per population equivalent actually decreased by 5.3 per cent from 2015 — 30 per cent lower than in 2007, and the lowest annual per capita measure since 2000.

The reversal is frustrating for Councillor Sue Maxwell, council's representative on the CECAP working group.

"I think we're doing very poorly. All the indicators have gone up since we developed our plan, and while we do have staff working on things, and they're dedicated and good staff, we don't have a dedicated staff person to work on it," Maxwell said before the Dec. 5 meeting.

Unlike RMOW projects like the Economic Partnership Initiative and Community Arts and Culture Plan, the CECAP wasn't given a dedicated committee or staff member to guide it, she said.

"To me, it seemed like a no brainer, that if we wanted to make any action happen we would have to increase staff... and yes I agree that everything is dispersed across different departments, but if you don't have a central leader championing it, you really can't expect to make much progress," she said.

Maxwell said she's been stressing the need for a dedicated staff member since the process started, and was told in February of 2016 by Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey that someone would be brought on three days a week to work solely on sustainability.

"And yet it never comes to fruition," she said.

Maxwell reiterated her comments at the council meeting, noting that Whistler is missing out on savings and opportunities for partnership with other communities by not making it a priority.

"I do not see that the actions noted for 2018 are going to change our trajectory and get us back on target, and I think it puts both the local and global community at risk," she said.

"I don't think it's too late to correct this, but I personally would feel very, very uncomfortable approving yet another budget that is not addressing what is kind of one of the key issues that is facing our community, so I hope that we will do better in the future."

Passenger vehicle transportation continues to represent the largest share of Whistler's overall emission footprint at 56 per cent, followed by natural gas consumption at 34 per cent.

"It's clear where the areas for focus are: It's getting people out of cars and onto buses and cycle paths or cross country trails — shifting peoples' habits is harder," said Claire Ruddy, executive director for the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE).

While the CECAP was a great step to take, many of the initiatives around transportation, housing, waste reduction and wildfire likely would have happened with or without it, Ruddy said.

And of 134 actions outlined in the CECAP, the Dec. 5 report only provided updates on 41 of them.

"I think that there are many actions in the CECAP that we need action on now, because when we have these conversations, the context is they need to continually be had with a sense of urgency," Ruddy said.

Like Maxwell, Ruddy singled out the need for a Climate Leadership Committee as a great place to start.

But the urgency needs to go beyond municipal hall, she added.

"It sits with business leaders, it sits with non-profits, it sits with us as individuals, so I wouldn't finger point the municipality on that," Ruddy said. "I think we all have a responsibility to kind of maintain that sense of drive and creativity and leadership and focus it on these issues.

"The plan is there. We all need to make sure it gets done."

Maxwell, who made sustainability a key issue in her 2014 election bid, offered a similar thought before the meeting.

"Frankly, it's starting to feel less and less useful, being on council," she said.

"And so it's really going to have to be up to the community (members) who are also recognizing this as an urgent issue, to also call for it, to attend the budget open house, to write letters.

"I think that will be the only way to make the shift."

For more on Whistler's energy use and climate goals head to www.whistler.ca/climateaction.

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