Council disappointed in city’s carbon performance

Despite efforts by council to ‘go green’ city staff say it will be extremely difficult to reach carbon target

Council was ‘disappointed’ Monday to learn that it appears the city’s plan to become carbon neutral is failing as its emissions are increasing every year.

Council also learned that the city has missed its targets in each of the last three years and has not hit the benchmark, which was set in 2008 when the city first starting recording its emissions.

A city staff report from Amber Zirnhelt, the city’s community planning and development services manager, contains a graph that reveals a steady increase in the city’s emissions since 2011 while between 2008 and 2010 emissions were on a downward trend.

Emissions jumped from 1,300 in 2011 to 1,507 in 2012, with a slight increase to an output of 1,523 in emissions in 2013. Emissions rose last year, in 2014, to 1,609.

Zirnhelt said last year’s output puts the city 12 per cent above the 2008 benchmark of 1,485.

The city, which is a signatory to the BC Climate Action Charter, has a target to be 35 per cent below the 2008 benchmark by 2020.

At Monday’s council meeting, Coun. Charlie Cornfield said he wasn’t happy with what he was seeing.

“I was a little bit disappointed to see that was going up,” Cornfield said. “We made a great number of investments in the city to work towards carbon neutrality…there’s flaws in the process that need to be addressed because right now it says that we’re doing a terrible job. We’re increasing, yet we bought electric vehicles, we bought hybrid vehicles, we’ve put on green roofs, we’ve done energy retrofits, we’ve spent a whole lot of money but we’re not seeing a payback.”

Zirnhelt said what the graph doesn’t show is that the city, since 2012, has been mandated to include not only its own corporate emissions but those generated by contractors hired by the city. Contracted services accounted for 38 per cent of all city emissions in 2014 and 2013. The numbers also don’t take into account a data glitch which included emissions from the RCMP building and the airport since 2012 which were not required to be reported.

“We did a lot of really great things if you look at 2008 when we started measuring to even 2011, we were still well below our 2008 target,” Zirnhelt said. “And, over time our city has been growing, services are expanding in some areas, so we have seen an increase that hasn’t completely offset the great things that we’re doing as a corporation.”

Cornfield suggested that perhaps the city needs to change its baseline, which was set in 2008.

“I don’t like the look of the graph nor the picture it paints of our community because I don’t think it’s a fair comparison,” Cornfield said.

Mayor Andy Adams agreed.

“I really see the baseline as being a flawed reporting structure, in that if we’re looking at a percentage of our city and if our city is growing, then our emissions are going to continue to grow,” Adams said. “The baseline needs to be adjusted to be proportional otherwise as you increase your population, your carbon neutrality goes the other way, no matter what you do.

“And if the reporting mechanism to the province doesn’t allow us to do that, then we need to make that statement to the minister that this is not truly reflective or realistic as to what we can achieve.”

In the meantime, Zirnhelt said the city will continue on with energy retro fits, and is considering replacing its boiler system with a renewable energy system, as well as converting all of the city’s street lighting to LEDs.

However, Zirnhelt said even with those initiatives, it will be “extremely difficult” for the city to achieve its 2020 target.

“With the increase in corporate GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions reported…the city has to reduce emissions by an additional 124 tCO2e below 2008 levels,” Zirnhelt said. “As the city continues to grow and expand services, significant efforts need to be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to make meaningful progress toward these targets.”

Still, Zirnhelt urged council to not dwell on the negatives, and pointed out that the city has been chosen as one of three communities across Canada to take part in a program run by Quest to lower carbon emissions.

“Part of the reason we were selected is because our community and council are doing a lot of outstanding initiatives so I certainly think we should take pride in that and not lose site of those initiatives because they are making an impact.”