Whistler is taking its fight against global warming to a new level, using the Internet to help visitors reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The municipality recently received funding from the Community Action on Energy and Emissions (CAEE), a provincial government initiative that provides financial and research support to local governments to advance energy efficiency through policy and planning tools.
The $20,000 from CAEE will be used to help develop a new web-based tool for Whistler.com, which will allow visitors to calculate the emissions produced on their return trip to Whistler, determine alternative travel modes, and purchase carbon offsets.
Diana Waltmann, information officer for RMOW, explained that InterVISTAS, a consulting company, originally pitched the idea of a carbon offset tool to Tourism Whistler, but since the idea fit under the municipality’s mandate to impact climate change, they decided to partner on the initiative.
“Reducing greenhouse gases and climate change is a major priority for the municipality, and this all works into that goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and trying to impact climate change,” Waltmann said.
The tool will be a short-term measure to deal with greenhouse gases, and will “look beyond Whistler,” considering travel impacts to and from the community, not just within.
Waltmann says guests traveling to and from Whistler are the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, so this tool is geared towards these visitors, in hopes that they can reduce their levels.
Ted Battiston, manager of sustainability initiatives for the RMOW, explained that their calculator is different from many others currently available because it will allow people to see impacts of different modes of travel, not just airline flights. Battiston says this will allow people to learn which choices are better for the environment, so they can make an informed decision.
“It’s about awareness, and its about the choices we make having impacts, and being aware that changing your choice might lead to different impacts, and therefore you may change your choice, or you may choose to offset the impacts.”
Battiston says they are also looking into the possibility of tracking information through the calculator, so they can see which demographics are interested in offsetting their visit to Whistler.
Since the project is visitor-based, Tourism Whistler has taken the lead, but they’ve partnered with Whistler.com to make the new tool available to visitors, and with the RMOW for their technical expertise and for help obtaining funding.
They will also be with InterVISTAS and the Icarus Foundation, an organization that aims to minimize the impacts of destination tourism.
While the federal government is still in the process of developing a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the B.C. government has committed to reducing provincial levels by 33 per cent by 2020.
On Monday, Premier Gordon Campbell signed onto the International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP), a program aimed at creating a global market for buying and selling carbon offsets and credits.
The ICAP program is designed to provide an international mechanism for sharing best practices on strategies like developing compatible global carbon trading systems.
“Tackling climate change requires international co-operation and collaboration unlike anything we have seen before,” Campbell said in a press release.
“…The partnership we have signed today opens the door, for the first time ever, to jurisdictions around the globe to share ideas and new technologies, and ultimately will lay the foundation for compatible market-based systems to trade carbon offsets and credits worldwide.”
The provincial government has also established the B.C. Carbon Trust, an initiative to offset carbon produced by its own agencies; for every tonne of greenhouse gas produced by the provincial government, $25 will be paid into approved carbon offset programs.
While critics of carbon offsetting argue that the process gives people permission to pollute, Battiston says it doesn’t excuse people from being conscious of their emissions, and should be used to mitigate our leftover impacts.
“Offsets are a meaningful second-best measure. We’ve got to try to make emission reductions on the ground at the same time.”
Battiston says the credibility of the industry has been bolstered in recent years as more third-party verification and auditing procedures have been adopted, but points out that it is still crucial to determine which carbon offset programs are feasible and worthy of their credit value.
Though they don’t know which company they will work with to offer carbon offset credits through the calculator, Battiston says he is currently working with Offsetters.ca, a UBC-based, not-for-profit organization.
The partner agencies plan to start developing the calculator tool in a few weeks, and Battiston says he hopes it will be up and running on Whistler.com this winter.