Citizen Action Monitor

Windsor’s climate action plan: too little, too late?

No 42 Guest post by Helga Wintal, with background by fw, on August 11, 2010


Windsor, Ontario has been a member of Canada’s Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program since December 2002. PCP was established to help Canadian municipalities to respond to climate change challenges. Eight years after joining PCP, Windsor has released its first progress report: Partnership for Climate Protection Program: Milestone 1: Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. (Click on the title to read and download the 18-page report from the City’s website. As an aside, neither the author’s name nor publication date appear anywhere in the report, although we subsequently learned that it was completed in 2008/2009. Is it City policy not to date its reports or to identify authorship responsibility?)

Helga Wintal has studied Windsor’s report. As well, she has carefully examined a 29-page critique of the PCP program itself, prepared by University of Toronto PhD student, David Gordon. His report, which was based on his earlier 168-page Master’s dissertation, was published this year by the Canadian Political Science Association under the title, Lament for a Network: A Comparative Case Study of the Impacts of the Partners for Climate Protection Network on Climate Change Policy in Two Canadian Cities. Click on the title to read and download this study. Alternatively, a review of Gordon’s report is available on this blog in two parts: here and here.

Using Gorden’s critical assessment of the PCP program as a contextual framework, Helga wrote her evaluation of Windsor’s prospects for success in dealing with climate change by following PCP’s program.

Helga Wintal’s response

(Note: On August 5, 2010, Helga emailed the following response to the City of Windsor’s Environmental Coordinator who, in a generous spirit of cooperation, had directed us to the City’s progress report, cited above, and has responded promptly and politely to our emails. The coordinator promptly acknowledged receipt of Helga’s response with thanks).

Thanks for directing us to the City of Windsor’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, completed in 2008/2009. Frank White and I welcome your questions and comments to our response, which follows.

Institutional Limitations: We appreciate the limitations within which you are operating, as you work on the next milestones in the process (target-setting and action plans). These include: the abdication of strong federal leadership on climate issues, a city council that is preoccupied with economic diversification and job creation, a low level of knowledge among councillors and city administration regarding the horrific consequences of anything less than an aggressive emissions reduction program, the low priority given to environmental issues generally, which is reflected in your budget, staff support,  lack of line authority and a reporting relationship which is not sufficiently visible (should have been directly to the Mayor).

Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program weaknesses: The City is following the five-milestone framework developed by the PCP – the inventory being the first milestone achieved. It is important, therefore, to acknowledge the weaknesses inherent in the program, as identified in the case study by David Gordon, which Frank cited in his earlier email and in his two-part blog post.

The major weakness, for anyone who seriously follows developments in climate science, is that the emissions reduction target recommended for PCP members – a reduction of corporate emissions by 20% below 2000 levels and a reduction of community emissions by 6% below 2000 levels within ten years of joining the network – is simply too low to avoid the catastrophic consequences of global warming.  According to recent estimates from the Integrated Global Systems Model at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the median forecast is for a climb of 9 degrees Fahrenheit by century’s end, in the absence of effective countermeasures. Warming on that scale would be truly devastating. According to world-renowned climate scientist, Stephen Schneider, heat waves and extremely high temperatures could be commonplace in the US by 2039, spelling widespread loss of life and a significant reduction in crop yields.

This current summer has given us a tiny glimpse into the future:  the worst flooding in 80 years in Pakistan, with 1500 deaths and 4 million homeless; a  heat wave in Russia which has taken 40 lives to date and reduced wheat yields by 25%; and the increased heat and tornado activity which Essex County has experienced this season. Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: a hair under 130 degrees.

Recommendation:  Given the severity of the problems humanity faces, and a moral imperative to relieve the suffering of others, place a high priority on completing phases 2 and 3 of the process – to set emissions reduction targets and to develop an action plan to achieve them.  In setting emission reduction targets, be guided by the most recent scientific recommendations and do NOT simply adopt the PCP-recommended minimum targets.

A second potential weakness arises from the separation of corporate and community emissions.  Although this has its advantages, it also provides an opportunity for the corporate sector to give a false impression of progress by moving emissions from the corporate balance sheet to the community sector.  With the City engaged in offloading services such as garbage collection, daycare and provincial offences enforcement, you will need to account for staff reductions and a reduced building and vehicle inventory in assessing whether emission reduction targets have been met by the slimmed-down corporate structure. In your report, you mentioned that the PCP-designed spreadsheets allow for the use of indicators to compare emissions by various criteria including population, floor space etc. We believe that indicators such as these are the only effective means of measuring progress.

Recommendation:  That you use appropriate indicators (floor space, staff size, etc.) to ensure that progress in achieving targets can be effectively measured. Among these, we suggest that you use per capita emissions to compare Windsor’s emissions record to that of other Canadian cities and to measure Windsor’s progress in reducing those emissions. According to your figures, our per capita contribution was 17.78 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person (210,000/3,734,649) in 2005.

Corporate awareness and accountability:  We are pleased that your report acknowledged the important role of cities in mitigating climate change, since up to half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are under the direct control or influence of municipal governments.  (However, we noted that the Mayor, in all of his State of the City addresses (2006-2009), made no mention at all of climate change as a consideration in assessing opportunities for reinventing Windsor and creating jobs.)

Recommendation:  The key to achieving emission reduction targets will be to integrate these targets into corporate decision-making processes at all levels.  To that effect, we recommend that the Mayor, Councillors and Department Heads receive an orientation on climate change, potential local impacts and City of Windsor targets and plans, with regular updates as appropriate.  Department Heads should be held accountable for achieving their Department’s emission reduction targets.

Involving the community:  Your report demonstrates that the bulk of the work needs to be at the community level as residential, commercial and industrial emissions account for almost 98.8% of Windsor’s total emissions.  Your response is to suggest that a community task force be struck to help develop a community climate change action plan

Recommendation:  Recognizing that the key to success is a supportive community, committed to bold action, we recommend the following:

First and foremost is education. We need a concerted effort to inform Windsor residents of the importance of greenhouse gas emissions reduction and to offer practical sessions on what they can do.  We recommend that the City promote a series of public seminars for the community, held at various accessible venues such as community centres.

Engage the community. We recommend that the City invite city staff, community groups, educators, industry and business leaders and citizens to come forward with ideas for an effective and integrated climate change action plan, including ideas for how the City, through its policies and programs, can offer assistance or incentives for the community to achieve emissions reduction targets. Instead of one community task force, we recommend separate task forces – one for the commercial sector, one for the industrial sector, one for the education sector – and ward-level task forces for the residential sector.  The more involvement, the better as it is these community sectors that are the biggest emitters and it is their actions that will have the greatest payoff in terms of emission reductions.

Including Aircraft emissions:  We were disappointed that the Airport was not included in the emissions inventory, as aircraft emissions during takeoff and landing are a significant source of greenhouse gases.

Recommendation: Aircraft emissions must be factored into the inventory, particularly as the Mayor seems determined to attract more air traffic to Windsor.  It should be possible to estimate the emissions in 2005 from records of the number of takeoffs and landings, the type of aircraft and the average emissions generated during these activities.

We hope that our comments and observations are helpful, and would be pleased to answer any questions you may have regarding our recommendations.

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This entry was posted on August 11, 2010 by in climate change, political action, Windsor Ontario and tagged , , .
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