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Squamish's climate initiatives get positive review

The thumbs-up arrives after the municipality approved its climate plan
environmental policy

One of the top figures at the David Suzuki Foundation is giving the District of Squamish’s environmental efforts a thumbs-up.

Ian Bruce, the chief operating officer of the foundation, said that compared with smaller communities of similar characteristics, the town is doing well when it comes to climate-conscious efforts.

“It’s hard to compare cities small and large to each other,” said Bruce.

“What I can tell you is that I’ve worked with many cities and provinces putting in climate change plans for over the last decade, and I can say that Squamish is really helping lead the way for communities that aren’t necessarily large urban cities.”

Bruce was part of the District’s climate leadership team and was an advisor — but not an author — to the municipality’s climate action plan.

The plan was approved by council last month and gives the community a blueprint to reduce its carbon emissions in line with the goals set out by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

That means the intended targets are a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.

However, the municipality’s plan does acknowledge it falls short of the mark. If its measures are implemented, the town will still fall 6,200 tonnes shy of its 2030 goal. This is a 7% shortfall from the reduction target of 45% by 2030.

The plan also acknowledges that it does not come close to achieving the 2050 target. It also notes that there are several factors that are out of its scope, such as big industrial emissions and embodied carbon, which refers to all the carbon emissions that go into producing a product, including emissions from things like transportation.

However, Bruce said the plan helps the municipality work on areas where it has control.

“I think what this plan does takes very strong action where the city has authority and agency over these solutions and you know, for example, emissions coming from the landfill or from waste...being collected in the community as well as transportation,” he said.

Transportation, waste management and greener buildings were some highlights of the plan, Bruce said.

The first aspect focuses on the creation of more active transportation, like cycling and walking trails, as well as the encouragement of electric vehicles by implementing things such as the creation of more charging stations.

So far, to accomplish that goal the District has implemented car-sharing; created the safe routes to school program, which helps students walk and bike to class; and is aiming to increase the frequency of public transit to 15 minutes or less within the core transit network.

The second aspect Bruce mentioned focuses on reducing the amount of waste coming into the landfill. It also focuses on separating organics from garbage.

Putting incentives on greener, more energy-efficient buildings was also a key element, he said.

These are some examples of the ‘big moves’ encapsulated in the plan.

Listed altogether, these are: reducing waste, reducing use of cars, using zero or low-carbon vehicles, decarbonizing existing buildings, building better buildings, and supporting continued emissions reductions.

Mayor Karen Elliott told The Chief in March that the municipality has taken significant action on sustainability and climate change, including declaring a climate emergency on July 2, 2019. The District of Squamish has maintained carbon neutrality in its operations since 2018, she said.

“Climate is now at the forefront of every decision made at the District, and policies have been identified through the Squamish 2040 Official Community Plan to aggressively pursue climate change adaptation and mitigation,” she said. “In addition to developing the Community Climate Action Plan and Big Moves within, the District will continue to develop policy and demonstrate leadership that directs meaningful action and ensure climate change remains at the core of all future reports and operations.”

Before the onset of the COVID-19, the District had budgeted $2.4 million for climate mitigation projects and $8 million for climate adaptation special operating projects this year, she said.

However, the municipality has since had to make changes to its budget, as it is expecting less money from property taxes as a result of the pandemic.

“We need to act together, it’s similar to whether we’re addressing climate change or the current COVID pandemic, we need to take collective action,” said Bruce. “Every climate change plan recognizes that we need to act as a community, as a province, and as a country as we tackle challenges like the climate crisis.”

~With files from Jennifer Thuncher