"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

GHC strategy needs financial details

At yesterday’s public committee meeting, Council heard a lengthy presentation about the City’s draft Community Greenhouse Gas reduction strategy. It is a detailed document, showing how, at the least, GHG goals are now integrated in the very fabric of this city’s future direction.
However, to my mind, the document is too vague in its predictions of financial implications, and overly-detailed in its minute dissection of every tiny little thing that the city is involved in that might have an impact on emissions. Several other councillors agreed on the latter point, and worried about the massive amount of staff time that must have gone into it—especially considering we are awaiting other, more pressing, reports.
Happily, however, as the presentation unfolded and as the answers came from staff, the realization dawned that the city doesn’t actually have to do very much more than what it’s already doing, in the way of densifying new development and encouraging more public transit, to achieve its goals. Moreover, most of these goals will actually be achieved by actions being taken by senior levels of governments. The biggest task ahead for Coquitlam, apparently, is one of collecting and analyzing information, and not taking drastic action to force the public to cut emissions or to do something like buying carbon credits.
Nevertheless, I still have some concerns. Firstly, there’s the odd way in which the reduction targets are stated (and, remember, these are not the targets for reducing City of Coquitlam emissions, but the targets for the entire community). The targets are stated as follows: “Coquitlam will work in cooperation with senior levels of government to reduce the City’s annual community-wide greenhouse gas emissions 15% below 2007 levels by 2031 and per capita annual greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2007 levels by 2021.”
I find it strange and potentially misleading that the long-term goal is stated first and, moreover, that the goals are stated in two different measures, one being per capita emissions, the other being overall emissions. Using population-growth estimates and 2007 gross emissions, I took some time to do some calculations to restate the goals in a more coherent manner, and here is what I came up with:
The City’s per capita annual greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced 30% below 2007 levels by 2021 and 52% below 2007 levels by 2031.
That’s a pretty daunting ultimate target, but I was assured by staff that it is quite achievable, given current programs by senior governments and current Coquitlam development policies.
Nevertheless, the risk of a growing financial burden exists. Indeed, I found several places in the report where financial implications were noted or suggested—none of which had a dollar figure attached. This worries me. These pages included:
Page 5 of introductory report: Financial Implications. My read on this is that, short term: no implications; medium term: maybe some; long term: let’s stay in touch!
Page 43 has a bit on incremental costs, but no figure. Page 45 has something on expenditures, relating to community carbon offsets, but no dollar figure attached. Page 57, there is a discussion about staff time for monitoring, but no dollar estimate. I quote: “As part of future implementation plan development, it will be valuable to understand……. This incremental cost should be the focus when estimating the true cost of implementing future actions.”
There’s more in the appendix, on an unnumbered page, when there’s a discussion about “Potential financial tools”, many linked to inducements. My take on this is that, where the tax man induces, he must invariably increase elsewhere to make up the difference.
Look, I won’t revisit all the controversies surrounding Global Warming and climate change here, including the many indisputable falsehoods and exaggerations in the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report; or the Climategate scandal, showing how leading global-warming scientists conspired to exaggerate impacts, and suppress information that didn’t fit their models; or even the emerging consensus that, even in the face of human-caused global warming, it might make better financial sense to adapt rather than try to prevent—a strategy, by the way, that would work whether global warming is being driven by natural causes, human ones, or a combination of both.
But I will point out that, in its list of “Key Strategic Risks” facing the city, the Strategic Risk Register that was presented to council earlier this year makes absolutely NO MENTION of any risk being posed to the city by climate change.
In a way, given the long history of this project, it feels like we’re on a ship that set its course five years ago for some fantastic dream port. But since then, the currents have changed, the winds have shifted and, oh yes, we never really figured out how much the voyage would actually cost and how we’d pay for it. Let’s just hope that the best-case scenario – that the targets will be achieved with minimal local expense—comes to pass.
(Photo from my personal files)

1 comment:

  1. Terry, climate change is a real and very important issue that cities should be talking about. I've posted my response here.


    Hope you'll come by and comment to add to the discussion.