Amid the dire warnings about global warming’s impacts, what’s often overlooked is that actions to reduce or prevent them will lead to livable communities, improved air quality, protection of natural spaces and greater economic efficiency, to name just a few benefits. So it’s not surprising that tangible positive action on climate change is happening in Canada’s cities.
Plenty of examples can be found in the National Measures Report, released in mid-July by the Partners for Climate Protection, which includes the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI-Canada, a local government organization dedicated to sustainability.
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The report shows that, although Calgary is best known as the epicentre of Canada’s oil and gas sector, its government is investing in greater energy efficiency and tackling greenhouse gas pollution. In just seven years, it has cut emissions from operations by almost 50 percent through an innovative partnership with energy companies. Cost savings from reduced energy use pay for the city’s investments.
Edmonton was an early innovator in waste management, establishing one of the first municipal composting programs in 2000. Its facility is the largest of its kind in North America. Not only does it take in organic waste from households, it also processes sewage sludge from the wastewater treatment plant. Along with its recycling program, the city now keeps up to 60 percent of its municipal waste out of landfills, and is aiming to increase that to 90 percent. How does this help with climate change? Diverting waste away from landfills reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
In Ontario, Guelph is enjoying an economic revival and reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. Supported by Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the city aims to meet 25 percent of its total energy needs with locally sourced renewable energy. The policy turned out to be a boon for the manufacturing sector, attracting solar industry plants to Guelph and across the region.
My hometown, Vancouver, is the real leader on Canadian urban climate initiatives. It has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major North American city—and they’re continuing to drop. B.C is lucky to be powered by low-carbon hydroelectric power; Vancouver leverages this advantage by making smart urban-planning decisions and encouraging active transportation such as walking, biking and public transit. Almost half of city trips are now made without a car. Battling sprawl and encouraging sustainable transportation has its advantages beyond reducing the carbon footprint. Good transit and improved liveability have attracted people to Vancouver’s increasingly vibrant downtown core, lush green spaces and seaside pathways.
Local progress can spur even greater momentum as cities collaborate with each other and other levels of government. The C40 Climate Leadership Group, started in 2005, has grown from 18 to 69 megacities around the world, including Toronto and Vancouver—representing one in 12 people on the planet. C40 and related initiatives have allowed cities to set goals together, measure and verify progress and share success stories on how to tackle global warming, while reaching out to smaller centers and co-operating with national governments.
The influence and importance of tackling global warming at the municipal level has become so great that the UN now formally recognizes city governments in negotiations on climate change. It makes sense. The UN notes that although cities cover just two percent of the world’s surface, they produce more than 60 percent of CO2 emissions.
How can federal and provincial governments get on board? First, they can establish policies that offer financial and program support to urban global warming action, such as investing in public transportation. The B.C government has helped cities develop climate change plans and become carbon neutral, and Nova Scotia has established a Climate Change Adaptation Clearinghouse to assist cities. Other provinces could take similar action. And all provinces and the federal government need to get serious about the greenhouse gas emissions they control.
Our future will be determined by the choices we make now to prioritize clean energy, better transit and smarter urban design. Canadian citizens and governments should recognize the benefits of acting and co-operating on global warming. There’s still a long way to go, but cities are showing the way.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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