Sudbury’s environmental program incubator reThink Green has concluded a multi-year project that examined energy and emissions trends on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore.
Launched in 2017, the Smart Green Communities (SGC) project aimed to explore the potential for regional energy and emissions planning across 25 participating communities through meetings, presentations, data collection, and educational events.
The final product of the project, Regional Energy and Emissions Plans (REEPs) for both Manitoulin Island and the North Shore, was launched during a webinar titled “Setting the Tone for 2021: Creating Energy Solutions Together.”
“Through the SGC project, and through the development of the REEPs, we’ve been able to identify a series of best-practices that each region could adopt if they wish to,” said Simon Blakeley, program director for reThink Green.
“We explored low-carbon development projects and solutions, including examples of policies, plans, proposals, and actions that can be done by even the smallest municipality, township, or First Nation.”
The hope, he added, is that the REEPs will inspire these 25 communities to work together and take collective action on climate change.
“Climate change is such a daunting topic. Our world, our backyard, is going to change drastically if we choose not to act,” said Leigha Benford, executive director of reThink Green.
“We understand that not all recommendations made within the REEPs will be made an immediate priority, and some might not ever be acted on. But there is future potential for communities in Northern Ontario to collaborate, share information, and work together to achieve a common climate target. That is a key takeaway point from the whole SGC project.”
The North Shore’s REEP study area extended from Nairn and Hyman in the east to Serpent River and the Township of the North Shore in the west.
These communities, which include Baldwin, Espanola, and Sagamok First Nation, are located along the Trans Canada Highway, which extends for about 95 kilometres along the North Shore.
Altogether, the study area comprises six municipalities and two First Nations communities with a combined total population of 10,892 residents according to the 2016 census.
Manitoulin, the world’s largest freshwater island, has a permanent resident population of about 13,255, which can grow by more than 25 per cent in the summer and fall months due to an influx of tourists and seasonal residents.
The studies explored each community’s goals and weighed them against estimated community and household energy emissions, transportation trends, and total fuel purchased in the regions.
For example, one REEP discovered that 5,953,150 vehicles drive on Manitoulin Island’s highways every year, creating 21,822 tonnes of carbon emissions.
“The transportation sector is one of the highest contributors in terms of the amount of GHGs emitted and sustainable transportation is not accessible on Manitoulin Island,” said the study, which suggested that changing how people travel and implementing a mass transit system are viable long-term goals.
“Use energy-efficient electric, biofuel, and/or hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles, and encourage the use of public transit with subsidized pricing and increase awareness on the current initiative of United Manitoulin Island Transportation (UMIT) to encourage ridership.”
The REEPs also explored different scenario forecasts like extreme weather events. The potential for increased temperature averages, for example, would have an impact on communities on the North Shore.
“North Shore residents will see increased occurrences of heat warnings, which are issued when extremely high temperatures or humidity conditions elevate the risk of heat illnesses, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion,” said the report.
“From a natural environment perspective, hotter temperatures will result in increased chances of wildfires. Sudden heavy rainfalls tend to drain away or evaporate because the ground cannot absorb all the water. This will cause forests to dry out between storms.”
The studies go on to suggest several steps, tailored to each region, that municipalities, communities, and individuals can take to improve sustainability.
Suggestions include adopting sustainable agricultural practices on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore, and using behavioural science to encourage energy efficiency.
Funding for this project was provided by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities (FCM), the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO), and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Participation in the project was entirely voluntary, and all services were offered free.
Data was provided to SGC directly by each community, through community consultations, and/or through publicly available sources.
The final REEPs will be available to each participating community and archived online on both the reThink Green and Smart Green Communities websites.
“ReThink Green wishes to express sincere gratitude to all of the participating municipalities, townships, First Nations, and funding agencies for their dedication to the project, and their overall commitment to building more sustainable communities in northern Ontario,” said the incubator in a release.
For more information, visit www.rethinkgreen.website/.
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Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star