'We cannot wait': City of Saskatoon launches consultations on lowering carbon emissions

The City of Saskatoon is asking for the public's help in deciding how to lower the city's carbon emissions.

City wants to reduce emissions 80 per cent by 2050

An artist's rendering of a proposed station for Saskatoon's Bus Rapid Transit system. Most of the city's emissions come from buildings and transportation, according to the city's director of environmental and corporate initiatives. (City of Saskatoon )

The City of Saskatoon is asking for the public's help in deciding how to lower the city's carbon emissions.

Last year, the city set a goal to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. At the same time, the provincial government has refused to sign on to the federal carbon pricing agreement.

While carbon pricing could mean more money for the city to tackle climate change, council felt it needed to begin the process to make a long-term plan around the issue.

"We cannot wait for that to flow through in order to start making changes," said Coun. Mairin Loewen.

"When you look around the country, a lot of the most exciting, most aggressive work that's being done in cities is being done independent of provincial or federal legislation."

The city will soon start a series of pop-up discussions, online surveys and focus groups to ask everyone from business owners to regular citizens how they would help lower emissions. 

Public input

"We're going to be asking people what these opportunities are, and really help us understand what gets them excited," said Brenda Wallace, director of environmental and corporate initiatives for the city.

"What is the groundwork out there that we can leverage?"

Wallace said many pieces of the plan have already been put into place, including the city's growth plan to increase density the city's core and bus rapid transit.

She said most of the city's emissions come from buildings and transportation.

"If we can bring viable transportation-mode options, if we can bring opportunities to intensify and add more density to our community, those have a big impact on carbon emissions."

The city also plans to launch a campaign where citizens can write letters to their future selves, outlining how they contributed to reducing emissions. The letters will then be sealed in a time capsule and opened in 2050.

In the short term, the city plans to reduce emissions by 15 per cent by 2023 to meet the Paris climate change agreement.

City can make change

Mark Bigland-Pritchard from the environmental group Climate Justice Saskatoon said he thinks the city is on the right track to reducing emissions with its plan.

But some areas of the plan will need funding from the federal and provincial governments, "which really is only going to come in most cases if there is co-operation from the provincial government," Bigland-Pritchard said.

"So there is some difficulties there but I think there are things they can do despite that."

He said Saskatoon Light and Power is already trying to generate more solar and hydro power, and added that weaning people off electricity generated by natural gas and coal will be crucial.

Plan 'very ambitious'

Elizabeth Schwartz is an assistant professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, and studies green cities.

She called Saskatoon's plan to cut emissions "very ambitious."

Schwartz said dramatic changes would be needed to reduce emissions from buildings and vehicles, which create most of Saskatoon's pollution.

Although she said the city has limited jurisdiction compared to the province, Schwartz added that the city does have the power to drive change through its zoning and bylaw capabilities.

"If we were to have a city that was less sprawling — so if we were not to build new neighbourhoods on the outskirts of town but rather intensify or densify the city that we already have — and we were to build what might be called complete neighbourhoods, where people could live and work and play and do their shopping all in the same area, we wouldn't have to drive as much."

Schwartz said Saskatoon could also retrofit old buildings and start requiring that new ones be built to stricter environmental standards.

"This is not only about solving some amorphous problem that affects other people or that we are causing less of than others. This is really about our own quality of life," she said, adding that Saskatoon could look to other cities for successful examples.

With files from CBC's Jennifer Quesnel and Steve Pasqualotto