Environmental Planner Gabriel Clarke speaks at the Civic Centre in Chatham on September 10, 2019. (Photo by Allanah Wills)

First steps of Climate Change Action Plan presented

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is one step closer to putting a Climate Action Plan into place.

Tuesday night, draft terms of reference were presented at the Civic Centre in Chatham. The terms of reference are the key points that will be used to shape the Climate Action Plan. They were presented to the Community Development Advisory Committee, an appointed committee that reports to council and supports to the community development department. The creation of a Climate Change Action Plan comes after council voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency in Chatham-Kent back in July.

The terms of reference were presented by Gabriel Clarke, the municipality’s newly hired environmental planner. They aim to address two action areas — mitigation, which looks at what’s causing climate change and adaptation, which looks at how to minimize the consequences of climate change.

The key points on mitigation include looking at how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by addressing energy consumption, renewable energy and carbon sequestration. Adaptation focuses on increasing Chatham-Kent’s resiliency to more adverse weather including heat, rain and extreme climate events.

Clarke said he anticipates that the draft Climate Action Plan will be presented to council in mid-2021, a timeline which he said is on par with other municipalities who have created similar action plans.

Completion of the Climate Action Plan will be done in “milestone” phases. Milestone one is the initiation stage where the municipality looks at where it is right now in terms of their carbon footprint, creates a community engagement plan and reviews policies that are currently in place. Milestone two, the research phase, focuses on where Chatham-Kent wants to be and its greenhouse gas target reduction. The last milestone is the planning stage where the municipality asses costs, as well as the implementation of the plan and how the action plan aligns with other long term priorities.

Clarke said that during the milestone phases of the Climate Action Plan, there will be many chances for public engagement.

“The reason that we’ve established, at this point, an 18-month timeline for the project is so that we can integrate meaningful community engagement both in the research phase and the action planning component,” he explained.

In the meantime, because the action plan will not be completed before the next round of budget deliberations, “lenses” will be looked at for the 2020 budget.  Clarke proposed that staff look into areas of the budget where environmentally-friendly changes can be made, such as purchasing municipal vehicles that are more fuel-efficient or upgrading to technology that reduces energy consumption.

“We wanted to respond to councils desire to have climate change integrated into the 2020 budget process,” Clarke said. “There was specific wording in the climate change emergency that spoke to that. We thought, despite the fact that the plan will take a year and a half to complete, let’s put something in place right now.”

The short-term plan is to have the terms of reference, which were presented on Tuesday, presented to council in the near future for approval. From there, a climate change background report will be prepared that looks at past and current mitigation and adaptation actions that the municipality has already taken.

“Our next steps are to basically take all the feedback we’ve received so far and to integrate that into the terms of reference document,” explained Clarke. “Once that document is completed we would go to council, present it to them. Hopefully, they’ll be able to adopt it. Assuming that approval is made then we’ll be moving on to undertaking all the actives outlined in the milestones.”