Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

CBC Ottawa explains: How would Watson and Doucet tackle climate change?

A UN report recently called for the world to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit extreme weather and rising sea levels. Here's how the two main mayoral candidates see the challenge of climate change.

Local governments control half of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, local governments together control 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. So what would mayoral candidates Clive Doucet, left, and Jim Watson, right, do if they're elected Monday? (CBC News)

Exactly two weeks before Ottawa's municipal election date, a United Nations panel of nearly 100 scientists set off a loud siren.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world needs to make dramatic moves over the next 12 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Otherwise, people should expect far worse flooding, wildfires, and extremely hot days — leading to poverty and thousands of extinct species, 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that local governments have control over about 50 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

So what is the City of Ottawa already doing about climate change? What do the lead candidates for mayor propose?

The city's approach so far

The city has two goals, one long-term and one short-term

Many of the fundamental plans that guide the city's work already revolve around the ideas of favouring cycling and transit over roads and vehicles. New city buildings must also be built to LEED standards.

The city also has an Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan. Last updated in 2014, the plan led the city to convert 58,000 streetlights to LEDs, install charging stations for electric vehicles, and explore whether electricity could be generated from waste at the W.O. Pickard Centre, the city's main sewage plant.

In late 2017, the current council also passed Energy Evolution, a strategy to move the community from fossil fuels to renewable energy, in part by convincing residents to drive electric vehicles and use air-source heat pumps.

The challenges

Under the Energy Evolution strategy, even if the city pursued its most aggressive approaches, it would only cut 48 per cent of emissions — with the other 32 per cent toward the 2050 goal needing to be made up elsewhere.

They're moving, but they're moving so slowly that it's not adequate to the challenge at hand.- Robb Barnes of Ecology Ottawa

Add to that, the Ontario government has ended its cap-and-trade regime, which turned the tap off on money flowing for cycling infrastructure, and energy retrofits to social housing. In September, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario pegged the amount allocated to the Ottawa area through that fund at $97 million.

Old data is another challenge. A consultant is updating the city's emissions numbers, and the new council will get a report in early 2019.

"They're moving, but they're moving so slowly that it's not adequate to the challenge at hand," said Robb Barnes of Ecology Ottawa.

For Barnes and other environmental advocates, Mayor Jim Watson's office hasn't made climate change a major priority. They point to both a lack of leadership and to his promise to keep spending increases capped at the rate of inflation.

Jim Watson addressed the Carleton University branch of Engineers Without Borders on Oct. 11, 2018, about what the city is doing to meet the United Nations sustainable development goals by 2030. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Watson: Realistic goals

The incumbent mayor did not face these challenges at Ecology Ottawa's events this election, as he attended neither its mayoral debate nor its Eco Gala, and did not answer its survey on environmental issues.

Watson did, however, lay out an environmental platform.

Many promises in that platform were already being done or explored, like planting 500,000 trees over four years, looking at using biomass for energy, and cutting 200,000 tonnes of emissions through Stage 2 of light rail.

Watson also was clear about his approach to climate change in a speech to the Carleton University chapter of Engineers Without Borders three days after the UN report's release.

It's nice to be  aspirational , but I think you have to be realistic with the public and set out goals that are attainable.- Jim Watson

At that event, Watson was asked — given the recent floods, tornadoes, and the UN report — whether he should "ratchet up" his leadership.

"Unfortunately I have to juggle a lot of balls, everything from police and safety and fire and environment and housing and economic development. And there's never enough money and never enough hours in the day to do everything we'd like," he answered. 

"It's nice to be aspirational, but I think you have to be realistic with the public and set out goals that are attainable."

Clive Doucet says cities should be leaders on the climate change file. He would make sustainability his number one priority if he were elected mayor. (Kate Porter/CBC )

Doucet: A sustainable lens

Unlike Watson, Doucet has not made specific environmental promises. Instead, he told CBC News that sustainability would be his top priority and would be the lens through which every decision is made.

"All the metrics should be pointing toward sustainable. And they're not now."

A decade ago, Doucet even wrote a book on the idea that cities have a big role in limiting climate change, but are hindered by a lack of political will. 

When asked what measures the city should take, Doucet focused less on reducing emissions, but on adapting to climate change: burying hydro wires, having backup water supplies, and using renewable, less centralized energy to avoid an outage like the one caused by the loss of the Merivale substation during September's tornadoes.

He also advocated joining the C40 network — cities that aim to implement the Paris climate agreement at the local level, including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

None of this is in his platform, per se.

Its main plank is a regional rail system fuelled by diesel trains. But those would cause far less pollution than the cars they would replace, Doucet said.