Peterborough’s Approach to Climate Change

Climate Change Rally on September 22 at 11am in Millenium Park. There will be an attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of Records for most people wearing purple.

We all know that the results of human-induced climate change are apparent in the melting of Arctic ice and the increasing frequency of extreme climatic events. For example, in 2004 Peterborough experienced a catastrophic flood.

Of course, no individual event can be attributed directly to climate change; there have always been such events on occasion, but statistical studies have shown the increasing frequency. For example, a baseline for climate in the United States from 1950 to 1999 established a norm that gave an equal number of hot and cold record temperatures for that period. For the years 2000-2011, this shifted to twice as many hot records as cold records, and for the first half of 2012, hot records outweighed cold records 10 to 1.

Such changes are having a wide range of effects, from heat-induced health problems, to wide gaps in food production, to changes in wildlife adaptability.

So how is our Government responding to this issue? Locally, the City and County of Peterborough (with all townships and First-Nations communities on board) approved the 2012 Sustainability Peterborough Plan. This plan addresses the areas of economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability for the area, and sets goals in each area.

Several working groups are continuing to set specific targets. For example, through the Climate Change group (chaired by Professor Stephen Hill), the City and County have just approved a $435,000 proposal to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to develop a Climate Change Action Plan. This study will develop an inventory and forecast of greenhouse gas emissions, an emissions reduction target, and a local action plan.

Provincially, the Ontario government has introduced a feed-in tariff to encourage the development of renewable-energy electricity from solar, wind and hydroelectric installations. This tariff guarantees the developer a fixed return per unit of electricity that is above the current cost of about 10 cents per kwh (kilowatt-hour), due to the risk and expenses of a new technology. The higher rate at least partially recognizes that Hydro One prices do not include the cost to health and the environment of our production of electricity. The most recent Wynne budget also promised again to eliminate coal-fired generation and to be a leader in energy conservation.

Federally, the picture is not rosy. Canada makes up less than one half of one percent of the world’s population, but is the world’s eighth largest producer of greenhouse gases. However, Canada has no coherent national policy to address climate change. The world’s atmosphere is almost at the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) to cause a 2 degree Celsius increase in the average global temperature.

Beyond this point of “dangerous climate change”, higher temperatures, violent storms, and more serious droughts and flooding will occur. Yet the known fossil-fuel reserves, much of it in Canada, would produce between three and five times the amount of CO2 required to reach this 2 degree Celsius critical point. We cannot allow the burning of this carbon! This is why Sustainability Trent’s goal of having Trent divest its investments in fossil fuels must be supported. Fossil fuel divestment also makes good business sense.

The CCPA (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) recently released a report, deflating the “carbon bubble”. “The study estimates Canada’s share of a global carbon budget and finds that at least 78% of Canada’s proven oil, bitumen, gas, and coal reserves and 89% of proven-plus-probable reserves would need to remain underground.”

Under the Kyoto protocol, signed by the Liberal government, Canada was committed to cutting its greenhouse emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009 emissions were 17% higher than in 1990. In 2011, the Harper government withdrew from the Kyoto protocol. Canada has now promised to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
However, in 2011 Environment Canada released a forecast that shows that in 2020, Canada’s GHG emissions will be 7.4 percent above the 2005 level instead of 17 percent below.

In 2012, the Auditor General concluded that Environment Canada “has not put in place an appropriate implementation plan to support this approach, which is designed to meet the 2020 target established by these commitments.”

The switch to more renewable energy, and conservation of our current energy resources must occur eventually, bringing with it a greener, healthier, less pressured society. So why aren’t we moving more quickly towards this utopia?

What can we do as individuals? Switching to low-energy lightbulbs is not enough. We need serious policy changes at all levels of government—particularly the federal—that will significantly reduce our carbon footprint over the next 20 years.

However, this will happen only if enough citizens tell all our political parties that we will vote only for the party with a coherent plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is why the goal for the Climate Change Rally on Sunday September 22, in Millennium Park (King at Water) is to have enough people present that our politicians cannot ignore us.

And the rally will be fun, with Washboard Hank (Fisher) heading a group of musicians in songs to please everyone from kids to grandparents. Wear purple for the noon photograph for the Guinness Book of Records for most people wearing purple! The Purple Onion Festival, promoting local food and culture, follows the rally.

If everyone coming brings two friends, this will be the largest rally in at least 40 years in Peterborough. Help us make history!

2011 POF Photo 5