Council gets update on upcoming Climate Action Plan

By Cecilia Nasmith

County of Northumberland environmental officer and climate-change co-ordinator Judy Smith gave Cobourg council an update on the town's upcoming Climate Action Plan at this week's committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Smith has been working with a summer intern on the project, with an eye toward completing a draft by May.

Of Ontario's 440 municipal governments, she said, only 29 are Partners for Climate Protection members.

“Why are smaller communities under-represented in the biggest challenge facing humankind?” she wondered.

It probably boils down to fewer staff, less discretionary funds and a feeling of helplessness, Smith continued, “But we all have to think locally and act globally. Global warming is affecting all communities.”

Her presentation included pictures of smaller communities that have suffered drought, extreme storms, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding between 2016 and 2018.

“And, of course, our Cobourg beach has flooded twice in the last three years. Water levels have been extremely high,” she added.

“Without the active engagement of local governments, which is really where the rubber hits the road, solving the climate-change conundrum will be impossible.”

In some ways, Smith said, smaller communities are better suited for effective action than their large metropolitan counterparts. They have stronger influence over utilities, ownership and control of such facilities as social housing and libraries, and the opportunity to invest in public transit and active-transportation infrastructure, as well as to enact energy-efficiency requirements for new construction. They are closer to the community, able to move more quickly on new initiatives.

“Some of the things we do will have long-lasting impact,” Smith stated.

“The choice is whether we exercise that power and influence to build the low-carbon communities.”

The result can be social and economic benefits, she noted, giving as an example the complete absence of smog days in Ontario since the 2016 phase-out of the use of coal in generating electricity, Other innovations stand to result in financial savings, job creation, improved public health and the stimulation of the economy.

The alternative is grim, she said, citing the November 2018 statement from the United Nations that we have until 2030 to lower the curve on greenhouse-gas emissions or risk losing control of global warming.