Saanich plans to raise its goals when it comes to fighting climate change, but past performance raises questions about whether the municipality will be able to meet those new targets.
The new goals to be discussed during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting calls on Saanich to cut community-wide greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 50 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030. Saanich’s current climate action plan calls for a reduction of 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.
The new climate goals also call for zero net emissions before 2050 as a complement to the target of becoming a 100 renewable energy community by 2080.
Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning, said the new goals reflected directions from council, after it had voted to declare a climate emergency in March 2019.
Hvozdanski said in a report that the previous goals appeared “consistent” with research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as the BC Climate Leadership Plan published in 2016.But new IPCC findings say that global net carbon emissions will need to decline by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reach net zero around 2050, and remain negative beyond it, if the global community wants to limit the expected increase in global temperature to 1.5 C.
With less than 12 years left to change current trends, the IPCC report signals that “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, transportation, buildings, and industrial systems are required in unprecedented scale,” said Hvozdanski.
Coun. Ned Taylor, who has been an instrumental figure behind the climate change emergency declaration by the Capital Regional District (CRD) as well as Saanich, captured this argument in his comments.
“We must do more to tackle climate change — the greatest challenge facing our world today,” he said, noting that the new plan is consistent with the IPCC report.
“It puts us on a path to save the planet for future generations,” he said. “With this plan, we’re doing what is necessary. Now it’s time for others to pick up the pace.”
But questions remain about whether the new goals are achievable.
While staff have promised a second report outlining “proposed accelerated climate actions” for late September or early October, the municipality has fallen short of its own goals to cut corporate GHGs emissions. Saanich had initially planned to cut its own emissions by 50 per cent from 2007 figures by 2020. Current projections (pending fulfillment of various initiatives) will see Saanich cut corporate emissions by 40 per cent by 2020-21.
The picture is the same when it comes to community-wide GHGs, over which the municipality has limited direct control.
A report released last year found community-wide GHGs will have dropped by nine per cent under a business-as-usual scenario in 2050 — the current deadline for cutting community-wide GHGs by 80 per cent and using 100 per cent renewable sources of energy.
Saanich — be it the municipality or the community at large — is in other words falling short of current goals, which appear less ambitious than the new ones, raising the question of whether Saanich can realistically fulfill more ambitious goals in less time.
“At the end of the day, we can’t do this alone,” said Taylor. “In order to get to where we need to go, everybody needs to do their part. With this plan, we are doing what it necessary. Now it’s time for others to pick up the pace.”
He acknowledged that reversing climate change won’t be easy. “But we can’t just focus on what is easy — we have to do what is necessary.”
The municipality is currently updating its climate change plan and Hvozdanski said Saanich finds itself in the “unique position” to revise targets and propose actions that reflect the latest understanding of actions needed to limit climate change to 1.5 C change in temperature.
Former councillor candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff said declaring a climate emergency and setting emissions reductions targets is “merely symbolic” unless it comes with decisive action.
“Saanich’s Climate Plan is overly focused on increasing the use of zero emission vehicles and retrofitting homes, and while these measures are important, it falls short of the mark. 58 [per cent] of the 2017 territorial emissions in Saanich came from transportation, and rather than overly focusing on vehicles, Saanich should be looking at supporting public transit and safe active transportation options. In this way, road safety will play a vital role in helping Saanich achieve its targets.”