Climate survey useful tool for community engagement, municipal energy planning

·4 min read

Climate survey results are in for Billings Township and Central Manitoulin but the reports are still under review by climate action committees, municipal staff and councils of both municipalities. The tentative plan is to release the survey results and complete the draws for the composters for those who participated on Earth Day on April 22.

From February 4 to 28, the municipalities utilized an online carbon emission survey powered by Ethelo to gather public feedback on preferred climate solutions for responding to and mitigating climate change in the communities. This provided residents with a say on which solutions should be implemented and assists with community buy-in into the process.

Community engagement is an important part of the development of climate action plans, called CEEPs (Community Energy and Emissions Plan) for both communities, a process that is being overseen by Kim Neale, shared climate action coordinator, with input from both municipalities’ Climate Action Committees as well as municipal staff and councillors. Climate action is crucial at the municipal level as urban areas are the largest place-based source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 71 to 76 percent of global emissions and local governments have control of over 52 percent of emissions that occur within their municipalities, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo.

Ms. Neale represents Billings and Central Manitoulin in the Transition 2050 initiative that is funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and participates in a Community Energy Planning Integrated Network (CEPIN) working group. Each month about 30 people in similar sustainability/climate change planning roles from across Ontario attend along with funding agencies such as FCM and government ministries as well as energy utility partners. The goal is to help each other and learn from existing examples, Ms. Neale said.

At a recent meeting, University of Waterloo Professor Amelia Clarke and her research team presented their research-in-progress on what is working and what is not in Canadian cities that are making climate change plans such as the CEEPs currently in development at Billings and Central Manitoulin. Ms. Neale participated in an interview with researcher and PhD student Ying Zhou in September 2020. Ms. Zhou’s research “aims to adopt an institutional lens on identifying the local decarbonization pathways and strategies, actors and governance arrangements for stimulating community wide changes and achieving the 2050 Paris Agreement targets.” In 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report that stated decarbonization of the planet by the year 2050 is essential in order to limit global warming to 1.5C and stabilize the climate.

“Our role is to provide an overarching view looking at how municipalities are moving toward reaching the 2050 climate targets,” explained Ms. Zhou. “Our research is broader. We use the interviews to look at the state of decarbonization planning and implementation among Canadian municipalities that participate in this program.”

There are definitely challenges among all municipalities, Ms. Zhou said. “Smaller municipalities share similar challenges but especially with staffing and resource capacity to implement some of the actions in their plan. There are opportunities for smaller municipalities to move quicker because they’re small. There may be less bureaucracy or they may have more cooperation within the local government but they’re also more connected with their citizens.”

Governance can be tricky when there are multiple partners involved. On Manitoulin Island there is the Manitoulin Municipal Association, the Manitoulin Planning Board and various other collaboratives boards, committees and approaches along with the municipalities and First Nations. A key barrier is bringing enough communities together to accomplish some of the bigger projects that could lead to carbon neutrality.

There are examples of municipalities working cooperatively with other municipalities and/or third parties, such as the climate action partnership that exists between Billings and Central Manitoulin. “There are many actors that contribute to the emissions within a municipality that are beyond the control of local government, so partnerships and collaboration are definitely useful to implementing some of the initiatives and reaching those targets,” Ms. Zhou said.

“There are opportunities Kim might be able to explore further,” noted Ms. Zhou. “For smaller municipalities as on Manitoulin Island, there are probably communities that are interconnected and a collaborative approach might be a beneficial way of approaching transportation planning in the region, for example. Within many of the larger or medium size municipalities, transportation is often planned at a regional level so it makes sense to proceed in that direction.”

The desired outcome of community participation via the online climate surveys is community support of the municipal CEEPs and climate actions that are most supported by the communities and that highlight each community’s most pressing climate concern. Once the CEEPs are completed and approved by council, the next step is implementation of the chosen actions while navigating the challenges of available resources, governance structures and strategies.

Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor