FOR THE GAZETTE
Opportunities to mitigate climate change in Prince Edward County are at the forefront of the Environmental Advisory Committee.
Jane Lesslie, Chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee, provided council the first annual committee report during Tuesday’s regular council meeting, just around the corner from Earth Day on April 22.
Lesslie thanked the public members and technical advisors of the EAC for their knowledge, counsel and continued commitment.
Some of the key steps to addressing the environmental impacts of climate change, Lesslie shared, are to advance the environmental aspects of council’s strategic priorities, mitigate the effects of climate change, encourage water and energy conservation measures, foster the reduction of waste by reducing, reusing and recycling.
It is also paramount to encourage the conservation and restoration of natural features and habitats, support the community’s environmental assets and identify new opportunities for business, employment or housing that climate change mitigation may offer, she continued.
When the EAC first met in February 2020, Lesslie said all members were surveyed for their key goals and concerns through an environmental lense, which she said was much needed for the Official Plan, Secondary Plans, policies and bylaws.
“Our vulnerable watershed requires protection,” Lesslie explained. “Our tree canopy landscape and wildlife regeneration needed fostering. We needed data and this is a regular theme that continues to come up.”
She said the EAC engaged with the community to identify risks and recognize those who are offering solutions.
The EAC framework to address issues sets out guiding principles to be fact based, seek best practices, ensure transparency, quantify the expected environmental and economic impacts and to establish targets.
The County set out goals for the EAC to meet as well, which include establishing targets, identifying threats to the environment, trends in environmental protection and promotion, successes, challenges and opportunities.
Lesslie said a considerable amount of time was spent last fall during a presentation to council outlining threats.
“Even under the most optimistic warming assumptions, without action, we’re heading for a 3 degree increase in temperature. To put that in context, the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 set a target of 1.5 degrees, so we are twice what we should be,” she explained.
She said feedback loops in key sectors of Prince Edward County make it “challenging” to calculate the magnitude of climate change and other environmental risks.
“Problems in one area in all likelihood amplify problems in others so thus the feedback loop begins,” Lesslie continued.
The sectors within the feedback loops are Infrastructure, public health, economy and fiscal sustainability, agriculture, tourism, and flooding and drought.
She referred to a “striking illustration” of the County’s unique vulnerability that the committee saw last year, noting that being surrounded by water makes flooding an increased risk.
“Simultaneously, and perhaps ironically, climate change will also increase our risk of drought due to our geological conditions,” she said. “Notwithstanding the challenges of COVID, the County enjoyed a number of environmental wins last year.”
Several positive impacts made last year include the LED street light installation, which she said was a great example of greenhouse gas reduction and cost savings.
Other beneficial moves, she referenced, were implementing the new Tree Management and Preservation Policy, the new anti idling bylaw, championed by Coun. Ernie Margetson.
She also highlighted the “desperately needed” new Official Plan, which has been reframed with environmental sustainability in mind.
Lesslie highlighted opportunities to improve county resilience and support biodiversity, and also shared information on trends from polling data, which show 82 per cent of Canadians are telling governments that climate change and global warming are either very serious or of serious concern, second only to the cost of living.
Those who think about climate change and are increasingly worried about it make up 74 per cent of Canadians included in the polling data, and 81 per cent of Canadians agree or strongly agree that climate change represents a major threat to the future of their children and grandchildren.
“Communities across the country are responding to these concerns,” she remarked.
As of February 2021, Lesslie said over 500 municipalities across Canada had joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Partners for Climate Protection (PCP), a free program offered jointly with local governments for sustainability.
She shared there is a 42 per cent increase since 2018, when the number of those municipalities was 350.
Of those communities involved with the PCP program, 136 of them have populations less than 10,000.
The areas gaining the most focus, Lesslie said, are transportation, green buildings and facilities, solid waste, energy systems and land use planning.
“So, what are the challenges and opportunities we face? Lack of data is a key impediment in making progress in sustainability. How do you set priorities without it?,” she considered.
“A frustration has been that despite declaring a climate emergency in 2019, it’s discouraging to hear people on council saying, ‘Well, this isn’t a municipality’s role,’ or, ‘There is nothing we can do about climate change,’ or worse, ‘It’s a lost cause,’” Lesslie said.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) reports that 44 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are under the direct or indirect control of municipalities, she explained.
“So, it begs the question if 500 other municipalities across the country are taking action, why not us?” she asked.
Lesslie noted that Coun. Andreas Bolik has questioned several times what the municipality is doing about the climate emergency, and she said the public members of the EAC are asking that very same question.
“We are a small municipality. We can’t have the range of expertise of larger ones like Toronto or Ottawa have, but we can make better use of the resources we do have,” she said. “It is striking that it took the community five years to develop a relatively modest tree policy when compared to some of our municipal peers, which effects only municipal property and new developments.”
Lesslie thanked the new Director of Operations and Manager of Planning for setting “a new collaborative standard and approach.”
“We believe that this will generate better, faster and cost effective results for the whole community,” she said.
There is a proposed survey of residents for their help in calculating overall flood costs to the community, which she said will provide the committee with a better picture of data to arrive at better answers.
“Like all municipalities, we suffer from scarce resources, but we can’t see doing nothing as a cost savings. Not when we are spending 1.7 million on flood mitigation for two years alone, and those are just the direct costs incurred by the County itself,” Lesslie said. “The survey will provide a bigger picture on what those costs have been.”
Lesslie said there are many funding opportunities and hopefully more with the federal budget coming out next week, though 100 per cent funding is rare and municipalities are expected to contribute to the cause.
She also made a suggestion that the County will need to put in equal time or more into adaptation if the three degree best case scenario track continues, which she said should be recognized in the EAC’s Terms of Reference.
The EAC discussed inviting the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to an information session on the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program. Lesslie said Chief Administrative Officer, Marcia Wallace, expressed interest in the program early Tuesday on behalf of senior staff.
Another opportunity for success includes welcoming the new Sustainability Supervisor and Sustainability Technician to County staff in the near future.
Lesslie said the operations and recreations departments for the Adopt A Tree program will be working with the EAC Natural Cover Group as well.
Lesslie also noted a Fleming College professor and his students are working on a class initiative to analyze the County’s urban tree covers, which she said is of great value.
Lesslie praised Nicole Storms, Environmental Services Coordinator for The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, who has already undertaken a climate change audit. Lesslie said this is an opportunity to learn from their experience and share common initiatives.
Councillors Kate MacNaughton, John Hirsch, Stewart Bailey and Mayor Steve Ferguson are members of the Environmental Advisory Committee.
MacNaughton said she is “perpetually impressed” of the EAC members’ patience, ability, intelligence and willingness to give so much to the community
The deputation was received.