Largely overlooked in the recent communications fiasco surrounding the library, how energy efficient it is or isn't, and what it's costing to operate the building, was the municipality's commitment to become "carbon neutral" in 2010.
Two years ago Whistler signed on to the B.C. Climate Action Charter, a commitment by local governments to become carbon neutral in respect to municipal operations by 2012. Two weeks ago Whistler councillors agreed to a Carbon Neutral Operations plan that will make the RMOW carbon neutral by next year - two years ahead of the 175 other local governments in B.C. that have signed the charter and before any other local government in Canada.
The reasons for doing it early were laid out in the staff report to council. "It is the intent of this proposed Carbon Neutral Operations plan to accelerate this commitment to 2010 as an acknowledgement of the urgency of the climate crisis and its impact on our economic engines, to leverage this leadership into improved competitive positioning and brand lift relative to other tourism destinations, and to accelerate our own internal commitments to corporate emissions reductions."
The Climate Action Charter requires the RMOW to measure and report its annual greenhouse gas emissions, which it has been doing since 2000.
Specifically, Whistler is proposing to become carbon neutral through a series of measures that will reduce the 2,200 tonnes of CO2 produced annually by municipal operations by 10 per cent. The remaining 1,980 tonnes will be offset by purchasing carbon credits at $25/tonne, or $50,000 per year.
The timing, and what it will cost to become carbon neutral, is interesting. For starters, the statement in the staff report about leveraging "this leadership into improved competitive positioning and brand lift" suggests this is another example of the Olympics hastening action on something that might otherwise be delayed to a more convenient time.
The same paragraph from staff also refers to the urgency of the climate crisis. A United Nations report released last week showed climate change is happening faster than scientists thought even two years ago. It is largely up to governments to lead on this front, but the dithering that's been going on for weeks over a general agreement prior to December's climate conference in Copenhagen shows federal governments are anything but leaders on climate change.
Local governments' actions aren't enough to save the world, but they do set an example. South of the border, the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement has seen the mayors of nearly 1,000 cities and towns agree to reduce carbon emissions in their communities below 1990 levels. In Europe, more than 700 communities have signed on to the Covenant of Mayors, a commitment to go beyond the objectives of the European Union energy policy in terms of reduction of CO2 emissions.