City's climate plan calls for smaller homes, cleaner cars

The City of Ottawa is envisioning a future with smaller homes and a car-free downtown as it prepares to adopt an ambitious new plan to deal with climate change — but first it needs to convince residents to curb their own greenhouse gas emissions.

But latest inventory shows greenhouse gas emissions rising, not falling

Protesters call on the city to declare a climate emergency in April. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is envisioning a future with smaller homes and a car-free downtown as it prepares to adopt an ambitious new plan to deal with climate change — but first it needs to convince residents to curb their own greenhouse gas emissions.

The road map, which goes before the city's environment committee for approval Tuesday, could affect every city decision, from how it approves highrise towers to what kind of buses it buys. 

Staff are recommending the city set tougher targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fall in line with the United Nations' goal to limit warming to 1.5 C. The new aim is for city operations to be net-zero by 2040, and for the rest of the city to hit that same target by 2050.

To get there, the average new home will be smaller and will use heating and cooling technology that's far less reliant on natural gas and other fossil fuels.

All new vehicles will be electric, and there will a congestion surcharge to enter the downtown core. The ByWard Market will be entirely car-free, and Ottawa will have the transit network it wants — not just the one it can afford, while any new development will take place near public transit.

Staff will provide a cost analysis in the spring.

Sustainable communities

To start, the city plans to decide on new infrastructure and development projects using a "climate lens," and will take stock of infrastructure vulnerable to wild weather.

Staff also propose developing a "carbon budget" like in Oslo, Norway, over the next five years. They also want to map wetlands and look at green infrastructure that can capture carbon. 

Coun. Scott Moffatt, chair of the city's environmental protection, water and waste management committee, says a key piece will be building more densely, and making sure outlying communities have their own jobs and amenities to cut down on commuting.

"As it stands today, you cannot buy a pair of socks in the village of Richmond," Moffatt said. "That's not a complete community."

Coun. Scott Moffatt chairs the city's environment committee. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Other changes will have to come from the private sector, Moffatt noted, and the municipality will have to rely on upper levels of government to fund its ideas for combatting climate change.

Getting citizens to do their part will be crucial, since city operations make up only five per cent of local greenhouse gas emissions.

Heading in the wrong direction

After starting to make gains when the Ontario government stopped burning coal, the 2018 inventory — Ottawa recently started tracking emissions annually instead of every four years — showed the city is trending in the wrong direction, with natural gas and electricity used to heat and cool homes a major contributor. 

On the other side of the equation, the city is reducing emissions from its own operations. Upgrades at the local landfill made the biggest dent.

The diesel-powered city fleet, however, remains a major source of pollution. On Dec. 11, council asked staff to look into eventually converting the entire OC Transpo bus fleet to electric.

Coun. Shawn Menard, who pushed for the declaration of a climate emergency in the spring, urged the city to "shift direction now." The latest climate change strategy has him optimistic.

"We haven't seen this type of commitment from city staff and from large portions of city council ever before. This has changed, and I am confident we can start moving in the right direction," Menard said.

Coun. Shawn Menard said he's optimistic about the city's ambitious new plan to address climate change. (Kate Porter/CBC)


Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.


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