Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/3/2015 (2374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It would be easy for Manitobans to look at their western neighbours and feel smug about their own environmental performance. Perhaps that is why only eight people showed up to protest transit policy in Winnipeg on Sunday.
Manitoba's hydroelectricity makes the province's performance enviable from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective. Whereas Alberta and Saskatchewan together produced nearly half of Canada's GHG emissions in 2012 (36 per cent and 10.7 per cent respectively), Manitoba produced only three per cent. Yet, Manitoba's emissions are slowly going up.
The province could get back on track by focusing on the daily activities of Manitobans. Transportation accounts for more than one-third of Manitoba's GHG emissions. Of that, personal passenger vehicles make up 40 per cent of emissions. Heating, cooling and lighting homes and cooking food are also significant contributors.
Fortunately for Manitoba, GHGs can be reduced while saving money. A recent report by the Canada West Foundation titled Walkin' the Walk: Five Steps Toward Efficient Cities provides a simple framework for western Canadian cities to follow. It makes the case most western cities need to do more but advises cities to remember that not all environmental projects are worth doing. The ones that are worth doing meaningfully reduce energy use, GHG emissions and costs to taxpayers over time.
Winnipeg has taken steps to limit both energy use and GHG emissions. But, it should take a close look at some of the things other western Canadian cities are doing. Calgary, Victoria and North Vancouver are leaders in mapping energy use, which allows cities to identify the highest value targets for energy management. Calgary, for example, found 67 per cent of its energy use comes from buildings. This information helps the city to show value as it seeks public support to reduce energy use and emissions from buildings.
Winnipeg and Edmonton have led the way with self-funding initiatives. They have partnered with energy service providers to enable private funding for energy infrastructure such as street lighting, with the private investor being repaid from the savings in operating costs.
It also makes sense for the province to take a look at the Vancouver charter and Alberta's framework agreement for charters if it wants to provide Winnipeg with more tools to reduce energy use and GHG emissions.
Cities could do more if citizens were less complacent, but their attitude is understandable. Hydroelectricity is both cheap and abundant in Manitoba and improving energy efficiency tends to have high upfront capital costs. Competing demands for dollars also distract municipal politicians from taking a hard look at our urban energy systems.
Builders, too, face a disincentive. Investments in commercial buildings balance capital costs against long-term operating costs. Penny pinching on the upfront investment can result in higher energy and environment costs down the road. If cities were to implement full-cost accounting for the life of the project, emphasis would shift from short-term to long-term goals.
Winnipeg has a bright new mayor who understands the importance of building a sustainable city and he has the ability to end the complacency. It shouldn't be tough for him to convince citizens to do more. After all, Manitoba's economy depends on the ability to transport resources to the world where our customers increasingly demand improved commitment to environmental performance.
With a little more effort, Winnipeg and Manitoba could fight the complacency and reassume a leadership role in reducing GHG emissions.
Trevor McLeod is director of the Centre for Natural Resources Policy at the Canada West Foundation.