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As U.S. President Barack Obama implores world leaders to do more to combat climate change, the City of Winnipeg is doing less.
The city parted ways this week with climate change co-ordinator Sean Madden, whose two-year contract ended Thursday. There are no immediate plans to replace him.
"His last day was Thursday, and we're reviewing the position," city spokeswoman Michelle Finley said.
She could not say why the position is under review. Madden was a city planning, property and development employee, but no one in that department was available for an interview, Finley said.
The city's long-term planning blueprint, Our Winnipeg, calls for the city to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Climate change is recognized as one of our most serious global environmental problems," the city says on its website.
Progress on combating climate change, however, has been modest since the city announced in 2008 it reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent. Environmental organizations were expecting new city targets.
"I think it's disappointing to see that position is no longer filled," said Tracy Hucul, executive director of the non-governmental Green Action Centre.
"The environment is the key issue of our time. We know the city was working on developing a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and setting targets, but there hasn't been any public update as to how they're doing."
Madden's departure took elected officials by surprise. Neither St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, who sits on the mayor's environmental advisory committee, or Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi -- who has pushed for greenhouse gas-reduction targets -- was aware the city no longer has a climate change co-ordinator.
"I thought very highly of Sean Madden. I thought he was doing good work," Mayes said.
"We need that position," said Gerbasi. "We have a very difficult budget, but this has to be a priority for us."
Madden's departure means Winnipeg has only one full-time staffer devoted to environmental initiatives. The city still has an environment co-ordinator, but she's about to take maternity leave. A search is underway for a one-year replacement, Finley said.
Most other Canadian cities have environment or climate change offices staffed by multiple employees. Edmonton, for example, has 14 full-time environment employees. Calgary employes 40 within its environment and safety-management department.
The mayor's environmental advisory committee has not met since Brian Bowman was elected leader last October. This is not due to a lack of interest, committee member Mayes said.
He said the environment committee should either be given more teeth or scrapped, because it previously reported only to former mayor Sam Katz's office, not council.
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Carmen Barnett, Bowman's chief spokeswoman, said the mayor is considering ways to strengthen the committee's mandate. That may include elevating it to a committee of council, along the lines of the civic environmental committee disbanded under Katz at the end of 2005.
Overall, most North American cities are trying to reduce their carbon footprints through a variety of means, including greener vehicle fleets to more energy-efficient buildings. Some have community greenhouse gas-reduction plans that extend outside of government facilities and services.
At the same time, cities are contemplating the possibility that costly extreme weather events are more frequent as a result of climate change.
So far, climatologists have been reluctant to conclusively state climate change is responsible for the large number of recent floods in southern Manitoba.
What the city says
Winnipeg's official climate change policy, from planning document called A Sustainable Winnipeg. adopted by city council in 2011:
"Resulting from an accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, climate change is recognized as a serious global environmental problem. The concentrations of population, investment, infrastructure and vehicles make cities highly susceptible to the potential effects of climate change...
"Citizens look to their governments to provide and demonstrate leadership, incorporating the values of the community into all aspects of their service provision. This is especially true of the municipal government level, as it has the most visible day to day impact on their lives.
"Leadership in sustainability is no different, and in fact may be more critical. Although citizens want to live in sustainable ways, many are unsure how to do this in their daily lives or what new choices and ways of doing things are actually the best courses of action."
What the city does
Statement from the city regarding the departure of climate change coordinator Sean Madden:
"Sustainability issues remain a priority for the City of Winnipeg. The climate change co-ordinator position, and its alignment with the sustainability objectives of Our Winnipeg and Sustainable Winnipeg, is currently being reviewed."