ClimateActionWR community forum on a local climate action plan. Photo courtesy of Sustainable Waterloo Region.

Looking to engage in reducing the Region’s greenhouse gas emissions, A\J attended the ClimateActionWR Community Forum at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener on March 21. ClimateActionWR is a collaborative project between the Region of Waterloo, REEP Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region looking to engage organizations and community members in local climate change mitigation. Guided by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Partners for Climate Protection Five-Milestone Framework, ClimateActionWR created a baseline emissions inventory and forecast for the Region. The group is now working to set emission reduction targets and develop a local action plan with the community’s input.

Sarah Brown, the project manager for ClimateActionWR, articulated that they want to influence greenhouse gas emitting activities at the local level, focusing on mitigation over adaptation – striving to minimize the intensity of climate change impacts, rather than learning to live with them. Instead of aligning their reduction target with provincial and national initiatives, ClimateActionWR is using an evidence-based, region-centric approach. By using their emissions inventory, they are able to identify viable opportunities for reduction, which will then cumulate in an overarching reduction goal.

Brown explained that ClimateActionWR is not working in isolation, but in tandem with the cities of Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge and their respective utility companies because energy is a key component in mitigating climate change. The sharing of industry expertise and data also enabled the completion of the local emissions inventory and forecast. But a personal connection to climate change is also required; “that’s when we can really make a movement,” Brown asserted. This means community members must first understand how climate change will impact them at a personal level before committing to less carbon-intensive practices (such as reducing their residential energy consumption and switching to a renewable energy provider).

A panel of speakers took to the stage to discuss where the community stands in terms of action on climate change. Ian Rowlands (uWaterloo Environment and Resources professor) challenged, “There are good news stories, but we’re not doing nearly enough.” Mike Morrice (executive director at Sustainable Waterloo Region) offered REEP Green Solutions and Community CarShare as examples of “pockets of innovation” in the Region, and Anthony Paleshi (project manager at Enermodal) mentioned that the province is leading the way with the Green Energy Act, but there’s been a “slow ramp up.”

After the panel, participants were asked to choose one of the ideas put forward on the ClimateActionWR discussion board and join a facilitated discussion. These ranged from reducing vehicle traffic by developinga regional pricing strategy for parking to providing more information on the environmental impacts of various food choices. Fostering personal connections to climate change at the neighbourhood scale by promoting co-benefits presented an exciting opportunity for the action plan.

The health co-benefits of mitigating climate change may be some of the most powerful agents for change as they are personal and tangible impacts. When it comes to mobilizing at the community scale, it is believed that impacts such as improvements in outdoor air quality and cardiovascular health related to active transportation are greater motivators than climate issues, such as ocean acidification and desertification.

By the end of the forum, a smaller carbon footprint for Waterloo Region seemed within reach. The Region is arguably well situated to take action given its “barn-raising spirit” and that it is still urbanizing. Moderator David Roewade (a sustainability planner for the Region of Waterloo) said it best: “We have all the jigsaw pieces, we just need to paint the picture.”

Updated April 16: The draft Local Action Plan will be available online May through July and will be presented to Regional Council in Fall 2013. For information on how to get involved, visit CimateActionWR’s Participate page.

Visit the Partners for Climate Protection website to develop a local climate change action plan for your municipality.

Find out more about Sustainable Waterloo Region’s work at their Evening of Recognition on April 18, and during the Victories Celebration at the Green Living Show, where we’ll celebrate the success of their Regional Carbon Initiative and an exciting upcoming project.

Julie is an urban planning graduate student at the University of Waterloo, focusing on sustainable transportation.

If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate today to support our work.

A\J moderates comments to maintain a respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Comments may be considered for publication in the magazine.