Of the more than 1,600 communities that are members of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Whistler is the first to reach the fifth and final milestone of the national Partners for Climate Protection Program.
The final milestone, which Whistler reached in 2006 after joining the program in 1997, is monitoring progress and reporting results. Those results are also part of the Whistler 2020 sustainability plan, and are available to the public through regular monitoring reports at www.whistler2020.ca.
The previous four milestones were creating a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and forecast, setting an emissions reduction target, developing a local action plan, and implementing the local plan or a set of activities related to the plan.
The goal of the FCM initiative was to encourage communities to measure emissions, set goals, and measure their progress as a way to guide municipalities to lower their greenhouse gas output.
While it’s good to be recognized by the FCM, Mayor Ken Melamed said the actual outcome of those efforts has been disappointing.
“The disappointing news is that despite what we consider to be some relatively aggressive efforts in transit, waste diversion, Commuter Challenges, bike trails for alternative modes of travel, and smart growth design, our emissions are continuing to rise,” he said. “We’re very proud of achieving the fifth milestone, it’s important to have these kinds of programs to raise awareness, but our ultimate goal is to have real reductions.”
According to the latest monitoring report from 2006, greenhouse gas emissions rose more than 11 per cent from 2000 to 2006, adjusted for the population. Energy use has also increased by 3.36 per cent in that time.
By 2010 the municipality is hoping to reduce per capita emissions from 5.93 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person to 3.5 tonnes, then to 3.4 tonnes in 2020.
In addition to the Partners for Climate Protection Program, Whistler was the first community in Canada to create an Integrated Energy, Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Management Plan to reduce emissions 20 per cent below 1990 levels, and to create a comprehensive municipal sustainability plan (Whistler 2020). Most recently Whistler was also one of 62 communities in the province to sign onto a new Union of B.C. Municipalities’ Climate Action Charter, which is a non-binding commitment to make the municipality carbon neutral by 2012.
Other programs that are expected to reduce emissions include voluntary green building standards that are being implemented in the municipality, a new carbon offset program for visitors, switching to natural gas, an infrastructure that will allow for alternative fuels like natural gas and hydrogen in vehicles, and flaring off methane gas produced by the landfill. The latter is the most aggressive action the municipality has taken so far, and should result in significant greenhouse gas reductions.
As well, the municipality is starting to put together a framework to create a district energy system for the village, which Melamed says is based on systems in Europe and could take 50 years to fully implement. The municipality will devote more time and energy to developing the system following the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics.
Melamed says part of the reason that emissions have continued to grow, despite new initiatives, is that Whistler has continued to grow in the past decade as new hotels, homes and commercial buildings have been added.
Large projects on the horizon include the athletes’ village, Rainbow, Fitzsimmons Walk, Intrawest units at Base II, the Holborn development at the Whistler Racquet Club, and lands above Rainbow recently given to First Nations in a land deal with the province. Still, Melamed believes emissions would have increased even without those new projects.
“There’s not much that has come online in the last few years that is hugely significant, but really every development results in an increase,” he said. “Until we figure out a way to bring things on that are net reducers — and we don’t have zero energy buildings like the pilot projects we’ve seen in Europe — it’s going to be a challenge.
“Again, we’re not throwing up our hands in despair and walking away, we knew the process was going to be a journey that is going to take some time to realize. The real significance of reaching this fifth milestone is that it has underlined the magnitude of the challenge.”