Cites Race to Zero: Talking targets, taking action

November 19, 2021

20211119 Cities Race to Zero blog post imageIf you follow both the climate change issue and the goings-on at City Hall, you’ll know about Cities Race to Zero. You’ll also know that local environmental non-governmental organization eMerge Guelph is urging a change to the target date for our community to achieve net zero carbon from 2050 to 2040. 

There’s lots to like in the Cities Race to Zero. Guelph is already a member (per this report by City City staff), but there’s a bewildering variety of climate action initiatives and organizations at the local, regional, provincial, national or international level. It makes sense to make our commitment to this initiative explicit.

The Race has two aspects that are worth noting. First, it doesn’t support the change to the end date. It requires signatories to “reach (net)-zero in the 2040s or sooner, or by mid-century at the latest”; 2050 is mid-century, so our target is already aligned with the Race. If we want to change the date, that’s up to us; the Race is not forcing our hand.

Second, the Race encourages “fair share” targets, which rightly acknowledge that developed countries like Canada are responsible for digging our entire planet into the climate crisis hole. As the staff report points out, this would require a reduction of 63% over 2010 emissions levels by 2030. (In fact, one could argue that 70-75% would be aligned with the table on page 6 of this guide, which offers Toronto as an example.) Our Pathway to Net Zero Carbon would only hit 59% by that date. So it will take some work - and money - to revamp the Pathway to comply with this criterion.

As for the eMerge campaign, its timing is excellent. The Community Energy Initiative (CEI) update of 2018 acknowledged that targets - and, indeed, almost any aspect of the CEI - would need to be reviewed and, likely, revamped. It laid out a plan to do so every five years. The next update will be due for delivery in 2023, meaning work would begin in calendar 2022 - which begins in less than two months. This is exactly the right time for our community to start having the important conversations about what targets embody our collective view on the importance of the climate change issue. As we have those conversations, we can consider the thinking behind initiatives like the Cities Race to Zero.

That said, targets are not nearly as important as action. We can make our targets as aggressive as we like, but that will make no difference if we don’t move forward with programs like the Energy Efficiency Retrofit program that OEG proposed to Council in January 2020. The sooner we get rolling, the sooner we can achieve a hockey-stick chart of program uptake, delivering the emissions reductions envisioned in the Pathway.

So, let's get going with real action. And let’s tackle the issue of revising our target, making the discussion as deep and as wide as we can. That will give us all a sense of ownership over our target, a sense of responsibility for driving toward the target, and the right to join in the celebration when we achieve it.

Alex Chapman

Executive Director