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Province's Climate Action Charter targets are 'aggressive' and 'unrealistic' say city staff

As a signatory to the Climate Action Charter, city operations were supposed to be carbon neutral by year’s end; however that won’t be happening this year or even two years from now, according to city staff which say the targets are “unrealistic”.

“To become carbon neutral at this point in time is not realistic because it would require that our entire fleet would be electric and some of our vehicles cannot be electric,” said Amber Zirnhelt, the city’s sustainability manager.

“It would require that all of our energy reserves were renewable, either hydro, electric, or thermal instead of gas.”

City Manager Andy Laidlaw said the expectations laid out by the province are lofty.

“My view would be the province has set these expectations and they are somewhat unrealistic,” he said.

“These are aggressive targets...I don’t think there’s any expectation of local governments that they’re going to meet those and I think the province is fully aware of that.”

The city signed on to the provincial climate charter in 2007 and in an effort to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2012 implemented a carbon neutral plan in 2011, which included emission reduction targets for 2012, 2020 and 2050.

The city did exceed its target for 2012, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 12.8 per cent over 2008 – 2.8 per cent better than its goal.

However, in order to become carbon neutral by the end of the year, the city would have had to buy carbon offsets (a reduction in carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions made to compensate for an emission made elsewhere).

Offsets are typically achieved through funding projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams.

Or the city could show it’s moving towards being carbon neutral by opening a savings fund ear-marked for municipal projects, which it will to the tune of $40,000 with the money coming from the gaming reserve.

Zirnhelt said the city can still put a dent in its emissions.

“For us to make some changes and substantially reduce our carbon footprint is definitely possible,” Zirnhelt said.

“For us to become completely carbon neutral without paying carbon offsets is not feasible within the next couple of years.”

Laidlaw said the majority of the signatories to the Climate Action Charter are in a similar position as Campbell River.

They’re either purchasing carbon offsets to become carbon neutral or they’ve opened a carbon fund.

Zirnhelt said though the province set the bar high, the goal was to have communities do what they can.

“The province expects local governments will reduce emissions as much as possible and then purchase carbon offsets to invest in province-wide projects that will reduce our...greenhouse gas emissions across the province,” Zirnhelt said.

“It’s a very aggressive target the province has to encourage local governments to reduce as much as possible and contribute to our overall reductions.”

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