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Climate change dominates MD council committee meeting

July 27, 2023 
By Local Journalism Initiative


By Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The political climate over environmental issues has shifted the last few years, with more and more western countries addressing issues associated with climate change.

Local governments in Pincher Creek are no different, with recent participation in the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre helping the town and MD shink their emission footprint and transition to greener energy solutions.

Another green opportunity presented itself in 2021 when both municipalities were contacted by Quest Canada to be part of its new Western Canada program, called the Net-Zero Communities Accelerator Program. The program first existed as a pilot project in New Brunswick and has now just rolled out to help 15 communities across the Prairies establish energy and emissions initiatives.

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Pincher Creek is one of two Alberta locations participating in the program, the other being St. Albert.

Both MD and town councils met virtually with Quest representatives to get an overview of the program during the MD’s July 11 committee meeting.

Quest’s ultimate goal, said program manager Ronak Patel, is to help Pincher Creek address its individual climate needs.

“Though there are programs in this space, a lot of them don’t offer a customized approach which is often needed from locale to locale,” Patel said.

“We are looking basically to provide support, research and recommendations not just to municipalities but also other energy stakeholders in your community. Having this multistakeholder approach can help ensure the work is inclusive but also not redundant and repeating what’s being done across municipal and NGO sectors.”

Outcomes from the New Brunswick pilot show that reducing environmental impacts through a community energy plan can lead to significant economic benefits.

Quest data shows that for every one per cent reduction in energy use, $5 million to $14 million is projected to remain in the local economy. Every $1 million spent on an energy emissions plan also leads to an increase of at least three jobs.

The general estimation is that at the end of the two-year program, Quest’s initiatives in the 15 communities will save $187.5 million in energy costs, simultaneously creating over 560 new jobs to implement emission plans.

The program will involve several steps, including energy and emission inventory, mapping energy use, and constant stakeholder engagement.

While this all sounded well and good, Coun. Harold Hollingshead wondered what meaningful impact participating in the program would have when the major issues surrounding climate change arose from global polluters like China, the United States and Russia.

“The MD of Pincher Creek and the Town of Pincher Creek are like grains of sand on the beach,” he said. “Somehow, other than a feel-good thing, pat ourselves on the back that we’re doing something, nothing that we can do is going to be significant. We’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and we have absolutely no bearing on the tonnage of greenhouse gas.”

“It is a global problem, and it’s not just one person that can solve it,” agreed Patel, adding that greenhouse gas emissions are only one part of Quest’s focus.

“There’s other base foundations measured if emissions aren’t progressed as a priority,” he continued. “The good thing is it’s not just a money suck — there are some benefits that come along, like we’re seeing with jobs, investments in local communities, improving quality of life, and preparing for emergencies. Things like that will also be considered in this program.”

The large scope of climate change, added Coun. Sahra Nodge, doesn’t eliminate the importance of acting on the local stage.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily an out just because our impact is less than others in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “It’s just a part of the global problem. With it are areas that we have influence on and I think we should be reducing our impacts over the small sphere of influence we have.”

Implementing the Quest programming is currently being scheduled.

Climate assessment and adaptation

The MD’s committee meeting also received a report on the recently completed climate risk assessment and adaptation plan, presented by municipal energy lead Tristan Walker.

The plan was completed in partnership with the Town of Pincher Creek, Piikani Nation and One Sky Consultation. Overall, said Walker, the project helps prioritize climate risks facing the area.

“A lot of this is understanding the risks our local climate has, and then developing an adaptation plan to address those and how they could potentially change in the future as we do see a changing climate,” he said.

Funding for the plan was covered by a $160,000 grant from the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre. Consultation, research and area studies began in October 2022 and concluded at the end of June.

The climate assessment indicated temperatures would increase over the next several decades, with more maximum-temperature days projected by 2070. Drier conditions would also create a higher risk of droughts, while shifts in precipitation patterns would cause heavier precipitation days and potential floods.

Though longer and warmer growing seasons are expected to improve agricultural production by 19 per cent by 2085, the economic consequence would mostly be negative, with climate-related issues in public health, infrastructure and labour costing an extra $32.8 million by 2080.

More hot weather was the underlying contributor to the assessment’s seven priority climate impacts, which include extreme heat, wildfire, wildfire smoke, prolonged drought, water shortages and loss of winter recreation. River and creek flooding was the seventh impact identified.

Along with the challenges, the study offers suggestions for improving health and well-being, disaster resilience, parks and environment, the economy and infrastructure. Part of the reason the report offers a diverse range of strategies and solutions is because its creation engaged multiple groups in and around the MD.

“We found it was really effective to get all the different points of view and work together in pushing forward some of these options and the plan itself, because everyone has different priorities and everyone also has a different knowledge base and different professional guidelines that they can help with,” Walker said, adding that the collaboration with Piikani Nation in the document’s creation was one of the highlights of the project.

Piikani is “hoping to build on that in the future,” Walker continued. “There’s a ton of positive feedback that can be found in that, and we’re getting some international recognition on this partnership that we’ve started to create, and I think there’s significant opportunities to build on that.”

One example of that collaboration continuing was Piikani inviting the MD to attend its own open house for its own plan, taking place July 19.

With the report’s completion, the document now acts as a resource to guide council’s climate priorities. The climate risk assessment and adaptation plan can be reviewed on the MD’s website at bit.ly/MD-ClimatePlan.

The next MD committee meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2 p.m. in council chambers.


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