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World leaders and prestigious heads of state are grabbing the headlines this week as they meet in Scotland and look for ways to mitigate the disastrous effects of a warming world.
But a whole lot closer to home a small prairie city is quietly taking big steps and making big decisions as they look to create a community where taking care of the planet is always a top priority.
This week, as leaders are meeting at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (GCCC), the city of Selkirk announced that because of steps they have been taking and will continue to take, they are now on track to outpace Green House Gas (GHG) emission targets Canada hopes to see met by the year 2030.
A brand new wastewater plant that opened this year and recently completed and extensive renovations at the city’s existing drinking water plant mean that Selkirk, a community of about 11,000 people that sits in Manitoba’s Interlake about 20 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is now on pace to drop their GHG emissions dramatically over the next decade and beyond.
The new wastewater plant is heated using zero fossil fuels, while Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol said the water treatment plant, which opened its doors in 1961, will soon also be carbon neutral as well, thanks to the changes they have made to its heating system.
The Government of Canada’s national greenhouse gas reduction targets call for a reduction of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Nicol said that by reducing and eliminating GHG emissions from those buildings alone, the city expects to exceed the national target by 2030.
While Nicol said it is the big municipal projects that often grab attention, it is what is going on behind the scenes in Selkirk that has allowed the city to so effectively fight back against climate change.
“Often with climate change we speak in these extremely large terms and about these vague ideas,” Nicol said. “But here we really try to focus on the fact that we are spending these dollars anyways, and that is why what we are doing has had so much support.
“All we are saying is ‘if we make better decisions we can use these existing dollars and save money in the long run.’
“And council here is really not always focused on the four-year election cycle, we are very often thinking 30 or 40 or 100 years down the road, so that becomes a part of the regular conversations.”
That decision making when it comes to climate change is also guided in Selkirk by a concrete strategy. In 2019 the city adopted the Selkirk Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, and Nicol said that strategy is considered in all decision making situations.
Nicol added the strategy is only about 30 pages long, and he said that is why it is easier for the city to deliver on many of their climate change promises and priorities.
“What makes our strategy different is we really thought there was this gap between government intentions and government results, and you often have these documents that get created but they are not oriented to action, so they sit on a shelf.
“Our strategy is lean and stripped down, and it focuses on real things that we can do, so it’s not something that can easily get buried.”
Selkirk’s focus on climate change even led to the creation of a brand new role at city hall. In May, former Winnipeg-based climate change reporter Sarah Lawrynuik took on a job as the city’s new energy efficiency program administrator.
Lawrynuik said she had no plans to walk away from reporting and look for a role in municipal government, but she was inspired to switch careers because of what she saw going on in Selkirk.
“It was just really inspiring to meet people who really cared about the problem and were determined to make changes, even if it was in a small community like Selkirk,” Lawrynuik said.
“It was refreshing to see a city that was really acting on climate change, especially since I had been reporting on larger cities like Winnipeg that are staunchly stuck in inaction.
“Selkirk might not be doing flashy projects, but they are making the changes to daily activities that make real impacts over time.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun