Bolder municipal climate change targets approved by Ottawa committee

The city's environment committee today voted to set stiffer greenhouse gas emission targets, a move the committee chair said is supported by federal environment minister, Catherine McKenna.

Name change to 'Environment and Climate Protection Committee' also up for future debate

Coun. David Chernushenko says the 8-storey building proposed for Bank Street is out of character for the Glebe's traditional mainstreet zoning. (CBC/Kate Porter)

The city's environment committee today voted to set stiffer greenhouse gas emission targets, a move the committee chair said is supported by federal environment minister, Catherine McKenna.

Members also signaled that a name change to the "Environment and Climate Protection Committee" should be considered during an upcoming city governance review.

Moreover, approval of his motion is meant to send a message to the public that the city takes tackling climate change very seriously, said Coun. David Chernushenko.

"We care. We are acting. We have adopted a very audacious goal because that is what we need to do and because we're hearing that from so many voters and people we represent," said Chernushenko.

Until now, the city's approach had been lukewarm, he said.

Most councillors willing to aim high for climate change targets

Scott Moffatt was the sole councillor at environment committee to vote against Chernushenko's motion, because he said he wanted goals set to be achievable. The others said they were willing to set lofty goals or "fail trying" as Coun. Catherine McKenney put it.

Chernushenko's motion aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions produced within city limits to 80 per cent below 2012 levels by 2050.

The city's air quality management strategy, passed in 2014, set a target of reducing emissions by 20% below 2012 levels by 2024.

"There is no question that no matter how ambitious and bold the target we set, we have to then have the process to follow up and do it," said Chernushenko.

Public presenters strongly support climate change action

A dozen people told the committee they supported the motion.

For Ecology Ottawa, leadership on climate change matters more than emissions targets.

Graham Saul of Ecology Ottawa sees leadership on climate change at three levels of government as "the stars aligning."

"I think this represents a new phase. The stars are aligning to some degree," said Graham Saul of Ecology Ottawa.

"If you live in Ottawa, your city government, your provincial government and your federal government all say that they care about taking action on climate change, which means now is the moment for people who care about this issue to demand they follow through on that."

Saul credited leadership on the environment committee and said Mayor Jim Watson has also shown he cares about the issue.

The city can help need keep global temperatures from rising by building compact communities connected by transit, he said. 

It should also insist that buildings be built to higher standards, and enable existing buildings to be retrofitted so they're more energy efficient, Saul added.

The climate change motion passed by the environment committee is expected to go to full city council next week.