Victoria must take bold action to meet climate action goals, new report says

Victoria has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 11 per cent since 2007, but will have to more than double that pace to meet its long-term goals for fighting climate change, a new report shows.

The city’s Climate Leadership Plan, adopted in 2018, committed the city to an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.

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A progress report received by council Thursday said the city has managed to lower its emissions despite a growing population, but the latest data suggests those gains are slowing.

“Increasingly bold actions will be required to accelerate emissions reductions going forward,” said Laura Berndt, the city’s manager of energy and climate action.

City hall has done a better job than the broader community, cutting its corporate emissions by 24 per cent since 2007.

But municipal operations account for only one per cent of the city’s total emissions, so the real test will be getting residents and businesses to make similar gains, the report says.

“I think we’ve got a lot more work to do to support and inspire and help the community — the private sector homeowners, apartment owners — meet the goals,” Mayor Lisa Helps said in an interview Thursday. “That’s the real challenge.”

She said people need to begin thinking about climate change as a health issue and taking it as seriously as the ongoing pandemic.

“If we think that the effects of COVID are bad … the health impacts of climate have the potential to be catastrophic.”

Helps welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement Thursday of a new bill to legislate net-zero emissions by 2050.

And she urged the federal government to partner with cities in order to achieve their targets.

“It’s a great announcement today,” she said. “To actually make it happen, hold local governments accountable and give us the resources to deliver those accountabilities.”

Coun. Geoff Young expressed concern that the federal bill and the city’s climate leadership plan are distracting from the real work of fighting climate change.

“Our staff has presented our climate change program at some length,” he said. “I can present mine much more quickly. It is: Raise the carbon tax until you achieve the reduction in emissions that you need.”

Young said governments love programs and targets, but what they really need to do is send a price signal to Canadians so they will make the right decision to cut their carbon emissions. The fact is, he said, that most Canadians don’t have emissions specialists advising them.

“They simply look at the price of vehicles, and they look at the price of gasoline. They look at the price of upgrades to their house and they look at the price of oil or gas or electricity, and they make their decisions in that light,” he said.

Helps agreed on the need for a stronger carbon tax, but she said people also need incentives. Huge reductions in emissions could be achieved, for instance, if provincial and regional governments could find a way to convince the owners of older apartments and houses to retrofit their buildings and make them more energy efficient.

“So yes to raising the carbon tax to a reasonable level, but that alone will not address the issue,” she said.” It’ll help, but there’s still the carrot side that needs to be implemented as well.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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