The total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for area municipalities has been calculated, and it turns out that our emissions are higher than we might think. When we account for off-road transportation, including use of boats, the annual average CO2 emissions in the Georgian Bay Biosphere area is 20 tonnes per person, which is higher than either the Canadian average (16 tonnes per person), or the Ontario average (11 tonnes), according to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario in 2019. While this amount can be expected for rural areas (higher transportation, less housing density), it is still an urgent challenge to reduce these emissions!

This calculation was completed as the first of five milestones, where Canadian municipalities measure their GHG emissions, set targets to reduce them, and create and implement climate action plans to tackle climate change. The Integrated Community Energy and Climate Action Plans (ICECAP) partnership brings together local municipalities and First Nations communities to work together to address climate change and has been coordinated by the Georgian Bay Biosphere (GBB) since 2019.

ICECAP members include: the townships of the Archipelago, Carling, Georgian Bay, McKellar, Seguin, Georgian Bay, the Town of Parry Sound and McDougall. Most members have achieved milestone 1 and are working on 2 and 3; Township of Georgian Bay is working on milestone 4. New members are pending.

ICECAP co-chair and Seguin Township councillor, Daryle Moffatt says: “The size, population, and geography of these communities varies widely and is reflected in their GHG emissions, where those with more kilometres of roads to plow, for example, generate more emissions than water-based communities with fewer roads to maintain. The energy use of residents can depend on the size of the household but also the types of energy used: wood, propane, oil, gas, solar, wind or geothermal. Our calculations provide a pretty good picture of our carbon footprint.” 

Detailed milestone 1 reports were provided to ICECAP member councils in December 2020 and January 2021. GBB prepared these reports using the best available data from provincial, housing, and utilities sources and was supplemented by results from the online “carbon calculator” completed by over 500 users last summer. The reports are then vetted by the Partners for Climate Protection office who oversee reports from more than 400 participating municipalities. 

“In our presentations, Municipal council members expressed interest in how 37% of regional emissions come from boats – almost half of all transportation,” says David Bywater, GBB conservation manager. “Very few, if any, other municipalities have accounted for boat emissions in their calculations but it is a major fossil-fuel burning activity that we needed to account for on Georgian Bay and inland lakes. Although boat engines are more efficient than in the past, they still emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and other pollutants. This project helps us learn about their impacts and look for alternatives.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to mitigate climate change and its effects: “the global net human caused emissions of CO2 need to fall 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.” Knowing the emissions baseline for the Georgian Bay Biosphere region will help determine how far we have to go to reach net zero and the best strategies to get there. GBB staff also developed a business-as-usual emissions forecast, which revealed that if nothing changes, emissions over the next 10 years would increase about 15 per cent by 2030. 

Planning for the Future

Dominique O’Brien, Director of Community Services for the Township of Seguin is involved in planning to reduce municipal emissions from operations. She says: “now that we have our Milestone 1 calculations, staff and community experts can tackle the next milestones: developing Local Climate Action Plans and setting specific and achievable targets that reduce GHG emissions. Our hope is that those plans will be adopted and implemented by area Councils.”

Municipalities are sharing all relevant strategies related to GHG emissions from their buildings, transportation and waste. These involve fleet and lighting replacement plans, energy efficiency measures, and waste reduction measures – including how to extend the life of landfills by increasing “waste diversion” like composting and recycling.

Greg Mariotti, Manager of Operational Services with the Township of the Archipelago says: “We are closely monitoring how technology is evolving around electrification of vehicles.  Reeve and Council are fully supportive in pursuing the replacement of fossil fueled vehicles with electric or even hydrogen powered units.  As soon as reliability and efficiency is proven on a commercial scale, The Archipelago is committed to adopting the next generation of work vehicles.”

Next Steps

Isabelle Moy, the Climate Change & Sustainability Program coordinator at the GBB, explained the process for developing Local Climate Action Plans: “We are taking the best ideas from across Canada and combining them with ideas from local residents to create Climate Action Plans – essentially a list of all the things a community can do to reduce their emissions like active transportation, energy conservation, composting, and better building design.”

On September 14th, citizen experts started working on Local Climate Action Plans. Each Climate Action Group (CAG) will address specific emissions from the sectors of waste, buildings, and transportation. In addition to the Climate Action Groups on buildings, transportation and waste, a youth action group is also being supported to contribute their ideas. A community survey, webinars, and town hall style meetings will ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute over the next year before plans are presented to area councils for approval. Moy said she is thrilled with the citizen experts coming forward to dedicate time to the planning process. “The most successful Climate Action Plans are those that have the backing of their communities. If residents see themselves reflected in the plans and feel that they had a hand in creating it, they are motivated to see them carried out.”

Find more information on ICECAP here.