THE City of Winnipeg will soon announce it’s met an 11-year-old commitment to reduce greenhouse- gas emissions, even though it has actually done relatively little to combat climate change.
A report heading to Mayor Sam Katz’s cabinet next month is expected to show Winnipeg has met the terms of a 1998 pledge to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent. But a large chunk of the decrease has nothing to do with actual reductions of emissions, as the 2002 sale of Winnipeg Hydro allowed the city to remove dozens of cars and buildings from its inventory of pollution- spewing assets.
In 1998, city-owned lights, buildings, vehicles, water-treatment, sewage-treatment and solid-wastedisposal sites sent 68,000 carbon dioxide-equivalent tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, according to city estimates.
Those emissions were down about 18 per cent to 56,000 tonnes by 2006 and continued to drop even further, thanks to the replacement of inefficient vehicles and reduced power consumption in existing buildings.
But the city will only be able to announce it has met the 20-per-cent target because Winnipeg Hydro was removed from its books.
"The sale of Winnipeg Hydro displaced a large amount of emissions. These are not actual greenhouse-gas reductions, but these emissions are no longer part of the city’s corporate inventory and fall outside the scope of this plan," according to the Climate Change Action Plan approved by city council in 2006.
Alec Stuart, Winnipeg’s environmental co-ordinator, would not confirm whether Winnipeg has actually reduced its emissions by the extra two per cent, as he has not presented his latest climate-change status report to city council’s executive policy committee.
Winnipeg has made genuine climate- change progress by increasing the efficiency of lighting, existing buildings and hundreds of vehicles, he insisted, promising the report heading to EPC will include "some real success stories" that translate into cost savings for the city.
"If you burn less gasoline or use less electricity, you’re paying less," Stuart said. "It’s not just about reducing greenhouse gases. It makes business sense."
Under the terms of the climatechange plan approved by council, the environmental co-ordinator is supposed to issue status reports to council every three months. But he has not presented any since 2007.
The gap in reporting is due to a time-consuming overhaul of the way the city conducts its climate-change inventory, Stuart said.
Midway through 2008, he was transferred from the CAO Secretariat — a since-disbanded city department — to the Department of Planning, Property and Development, city spokeswoman Pam Sveinson noted. Stuart has been handed additional responsibilities that include taking part in the revamping of Plan Winnipeg, the city’s near-obsolete, long-term planning blueprint.
Winnipeg has a total of three employees devoted to climate-changerelated initiatives: Stuart, activetransportation co-ordinator Kevin Nixon and a fleet-management employee.
But Winnipeg may soon do more to combat climate change, as Katz promised last year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a further 20 per cent.
And in 2010, Winnipeg plans to spend $8.9 million on a plan to capture methane, which is 11 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, at the Brady Road Landfill, the city’s single largest source of emissions.
Winnipeg may also explore the possibility of a community-wide greenhouse-gas reduction program, as the 56,0 0 0 tonnes produced by city vehicles, buildings and other assets only represents about one per cent of the five million tonnes produced in the city as a whole, notes University of Manitoba graduate student David Gordon in a thesis on climate-change policy.
City council is not doing enough to convince the rest of Winnipeg to reduce emissions, he concludes.
"The immediate focus of the local government... does not bode well for the closing of this gap," he writes.
— With files from Sean Ledwich
Greenhouse-gas emissions attributed to city lights, buildings, vehicles and other assets in 1998.
Target for greenhouse gas reductions set in 1998.
Greenhouse gas emissions from city assets in 2006, an 18 per cent reduction.
‘A large amount’:
Percentage of 1998-to-2006 greenhouse-gas reductions stemming from the sale of Winnipeg Hydro to Manitoba Hydro, thereby wiping a significant portion of the city’s emissions off its books.
Greenhouse-gas reductions Winnipeg must achieve for real, according to 2008 pledge by Mayor Sam Katz.
—Source: Winnipeg’s Climate Change Action Plan