Inaugural climate change committee meeting discusses Island impacts

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MINDEMOYA – A meeting was held March 9 at the Mindemoya community hall for interested parties to learn about climate change planning. Kristin Koetsier, climate change co-ordinator for the Municipality of Central Manitoulin and the Township of Billings introduced guest speaker Paul Cobb, regional advisor, Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) for the Climate Change Institute (CCI).

Mr. Cobb has worked for several years with municipalities and First Nations on dealing with the effects of climate change. He noted that the program is 25 years old and that regional advisor support directors have been created right across Canada. He explained that the institute offers climate services to decision-makers to build resilience to extreme weather and climate change. Data and tools needed for change are selected to build climate resilience into policy, programs, strategy, planning and operations, and a collaborative approach is taken to harness the wisdom of local experience and knowledge.

Mr. Cobb started his presentation with a snapshot of the greenhouse effect whereby the Earth’s atmosphere becomes burdened with gases that trap the sun’s radiation, thus causing global warming. He explained that there is a wide range of consequences to this and that carbon is changing the climate. The average global temperature rise is an indicator of climate change and also, the amount of water vapour is increasing. 

Mr. Cobb also noted that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) states that the global temperature has already increased one degree, leading to the displacement of people, health issues and so on. “We are not particularly equipped to deal with these issues,” he said. Global warming issues are mainly from an increase and a greater intensity in heat waves, droughts, blizzards and rainstorms. Mr. Cobb told his audience that Thunder Bay was hit hard by rainfall in 2012 that saw 108 millimetres of rainfall in 36 hours, with 50 of those millimetres falling in just one hour. The city saw the failure of the sewage plant with sewage backing into neighbourhoods, widespread basement flooding and other issues that led to a declaration of a state of emergency.

Other changes in Ontario show that the Great Lakes ice cover has declined by up to 27 percent since 1970, fire seasons are longer with lightning-caused fires in Northwestern Ontario increasing. The Great Lakes show a temperature rise of 2.3°C, a frost-free season rising by 16 days, an increase of 14 percent in total precipitation and a 35 percent rise in heavy precipitation events. 

Mr. Cobb also showed Gore Bay examples that outline a steady rise over the years in the mean temperature, except for winter when it continues to decline.

Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens and councillors Al Tribinevicius, Dale Scott and Derek Stephens attended this meeting and Councillor Scott questioned global warming. “If you go back 2,000 years,” he said, “you would have seen these changes.” 

To this, Mr. Cobb replied that the range is much smaller now and Jan McQuay stated that “they were predicting what emissions could do as far back as the 1800s.” 

Councillor Derek Stephens reminded the audience that there have been three times that the earth was destroyed and asked if anything could be done about this now. Mr. Cobb answered in the affirmative saying that “now we can do something about it. We can control it and we can do something about climate change.”

Mr. Cobb spoke of the local projections of climate change and told his audience that the temperature would be warmer across all seasons, that there would be more rain and less snow, a decrease in water availability in the summer, and more hot days above 30°C and less cold days below -25°C. He noted that climate change affects natural resources and biodiversity in Northern Ontario species. There is a spread of invasive species, effects on the health of the boreal forest, a change in fish range and a decrease in ice coverage. “The impacts will continue and get worse,” he said.

Ms. McQuay then mentioned that “greenhouse gases are created by the energy companies themselves.” 

Councillor Scott asked about a huge untapped oil reserve in Iraq. “There is a glut of oil right now. I don’t think we are going to get away from cheap fossil fuels.”

Mr. Cobb also spoke of the heightened fears about the permafrost in Canada’s far north. It holds a large reserve of carbon that soil microbes can turn into carbon dioxide and methane if thawing takes place. Those greenhouse gases will enter the atmosphere, further compounding climate change problems.

Mr. Cobb also spoke of the health effects of climate change including stress and displacement from extreme weather including extreme heat. There will also be an increase of ticks in areas and one has to be significantly aware of the tick risk. Some of the other health concerns are an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, premature deaths related to extreme weather, infectious diseases and mental health issues.

Another subject was climate planning with two possible climate responses. The first is mitigation which looks at the causes of climate change and measures to reduce emissions. The second is adaptation, looking at the impacts of climate change and the measures to be taken to reduce the effects. Climate solutions can focus on either factor or an overlapping of both. For example, a municipality might ensure that there is flood protection, a mitigation and energy efficiency and adaptation measure, but water and energy conservation would include both.

Mr. Cobb went over milestones to follow, beginning with creating a baseline emissions inventory and forecast followed by setting emissions reductions targets. The third milestone is to develop a local action plan and then implement that plan and monitor progress and report results. He gave the example of Peterborough County where the county and lower tiers worked together on climate planning, had a climate change working group and significant stakeholder engagement. Green growth and active transportation were supported, there was improved public transit, changes were made to fleets and there was a strengthening of land-use policies.

The St. John market renovation was also outlined. Steps taken included the use of biomass from certified wood waste, solar power, LED lighting and a high-efficiency heat pump system was installed. The results showed a $47,000 savings in annual energy costs, $50,000 in annual savings in maintenance and an 87 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Cobb also explained that PCP offers a joint initiative with ICLEI Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and gives technical support and guidance, free training and resources. There are also funding opportunities for communities. The provincial government has funding for energy planning up to $90,000 and the FCM green municipal fund has $300 million for community efficiency financing, $300 million for sustainable affordable housing and $350 million for collaboration on community climate action.

As stated, climate solutions can create jobs, save money, protect biodiversity, conserve places, spaces and culture, improve health and connect community members. Residents of Central Manitoulin and Billings Township will be pleased to learn that not only has Ms. Koetsier been hired as a climate change co-ordinator, but each area has also started a climate action committee.