Dysart council speaks to priority of climate change actions

By Sue Tiffin

Dysart et al councillors are the latest in the county to accept a corporate climate change mitigation plan for the township, as was presented by Korey McKay, the county’s climate change co-ordinator during an Aug. 25 council meeting.

According to McKay’s presentation, the corporate climate change mitigation plan “focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are directly controlled by the municipality; outlines potential opportunities for reducing the municipality’s carbon footprint and achieving the emissions reduction targets and builds on existing efforts and suggests best practices that should be explored for our local context.”

McKay, who was hired by the county last fall, has been working on a county climate change plan, having previously visited the county and lower-tier municipalities to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in order to reduce GhG emissions across the county and its four local municipalities by 30 per cent below 2018 levels by 2030. Dysart et al councillors adopted greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for the municipality as part of the county’s climate change mitigation plan during a Feb. 25 council meeting.

The first phase of the project is the creation of corporate climate change mitigation plan for the county and each of the four lower tiers, corporate greenhouse gas emissions being those that are produced by the municipal governments themselves. Eighty-six per cent of Dysart et al’s corporate emissions come from waste, or landfills, while nine per cent come from vehicle fleet and five per cent from buildings. The GHG reduction target for the municipality is to reduce corporate emissions by 20 per cent for buildings; 10 per cent for fleet and 80 per cent for waste from the 2018 baseline by 2030.
The goals within the mitigation plan are to improve energy efficiency and transition to low carbon and renewable sources of energy in municipal facilties; reduce fuel consumption and transition to low carbon vehicles and fuels; reduce and divert organic waste from landfills and improve corporate waste management and landfill data and integrate climate change considerations across municipal programs, policies and plans.

Actions recommended by McKay include developing and implementing a green new building policy; and creating a schedule to retrofit existing buildings, installing electric vehicle charging stations in municipal parking lots and developing and implementing a green fleet policy, and continuing to support and promote backyard composting, complete a waste composition study at the landfill sites, working to reduce waste that is generated from municipal facilities, invest in scales to provide more accurate data on tonnage, expand options for re-use, and exploring the use of a bag tag system and a bag limit policy. 

McKay noted that the county and other municipalities within the region have similar actions in their own plans as well “so a lot of this effort can be shared amongst us all.” Despite that McKay said there would be projects that would be done separately within municipalities. 

A joint municipal climate change working group was recommended “for county-wide collaboration and outgoing input and support for the adoption of practices and policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” and McKay said that could involve staff and potentially council members, with opportunity for community members to offer input in the future.

Councillor John Smith thanked McKay for the summary but asked what action could be taken more immediately.

“I’d say some in the community are anxious to see more action at a little faster pace,” he said.
He asked what could be done sooner regarding organic waste to reduce and divert it from landfills, noting “the amount of organic waste that shows up at our landfill sites is frankly remarkable,” and that although there had been efforts in Dysart and elsewhere to encourage people to compost at home, many commercial establishments are also producing organic waste. Smith said he wanted to see more immediate action at addressing piles of organic waste that were being dumped at landfills, which he said residents had sent him photos of – “basically a truckload that’s been dumped.” 

McKay said that would be a goal of the working group, to look at different composting options, which would be a focus in implementing the plan.  

“…You know, your report here speaks to Dysart reducing its impact from a landfill point of view by 80 per cent,” said Smith. “That’s a little bit misleading, because frankly, the greenhouse gases produced by our landfills is not defined by 80 per cent. The fact that our landfills are filled to capacity and we haul our garbage away. It may end up at a site where you know, they’re capturing the methane but today big fuel-burning trucks are hauling garbage from Dysart to places like Chatham and Watford in southwestern Ontario, over 1,000 kilometres return trip. It’s not good. So this organic waste, opportunities to utilize it locally would be critically important. Addressing it in the long-term is one thing, but what can we do in the short-term? How do we get this to the top of your agenda?” 

Smith said it isn’t just backyard composting but commercial enterprises that don’t have an opportunity to compost beside their store or restaurant.

McKay said if council wanted that to be a priority, it was on the plan to be explored by the working group. Mayor Andrea Roberts said it could also be added to a council meeting agenda next month.

“I’d like to see us talk about this a little more seriously, there’s so many things we could be doing and we kind of just keep deferring these things,” said Smith. “Back in the spring there was a desire to declare a climate change emergency … but council overruled that. There are so many practical things that could be done that we don’t talk about, we don’t promote, we don’t get staff engaged in driving these things and it’s extremely frustrating to people in the community who care deeply and are very concerned about climate change, the inaction and the unwillingness to get these things on an agenda and create some real changes, it’s extremely frustrating.”

Roberts said it was also a priority for council.

with files from Chad Ingram