/Enviro-Cafe fosters climate conversation

Enviro-Cafe fosters climate conversation

By Nick Bernard

The public received an update on Haliburton County’s climate change plan during an Enviro-Cafe presentation led by climate change co-ordinator Korey McKay on Jan. 11.

Organized by Environment Haliburton (EH), the event was led by opening remarks by EH president … Susan Hay presented a stark observation of climate events that have unfolded across the world, calling 2021 a year of extremes.

“If there was ever any doubt about climate change, those doubts were washed away with half of British Columbia,” Hay said. “Even if we’ve been lucky enough to escape the ravages of climate change, it is on our minds like never before.”

Hay went on to introduce Terry Moore, EH’s vice president and host of Planet Haliburton on Canoe FM. Moore also won the 2021 Haliburton Land Trust’s Enviro-Hero award for education.

“Enviro-Cafes … is part of Environment Haliburton’s attempt to foster climate conversations across the county so that this community can do its part in addressing the climate emergency,” Moore said before introducing McKay. “Climate scientists, the UN climate reports and summits – like the recently concluded 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November – continue to remind us of the urgency of the climate challenge we face, the need for immediate and deep cuts to carbon emissions, and the rapid transition off of fossil fuels.”

He remarked that in the face of what he perceived as failure of senior levels of government to stop the rise and reversal of greenhouse gasses, pressure to take climate action has instead been placed on municipal governments. 

For its part, Haliburton County introduced its own climate change mitigation plan in November 2021, establishing emission reduction targets across the county and its municipalities. Those targets include reducing total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 per cent across all county and municipal operations, with specific emission reduction targets within the municipalities themselves. 

In Dysart et al, the target is to reduce corporate GHG emissions by 20 per cent for buildings, 10 per cent for fleet and 80 per cent for waste by 2030. A similar target is in place for Minden. In Algonquin Highlands, the reduction targets are the same, with the exception of fleet emissions, which are intended to be reduced by 12 per cent in the same time frame. Haliburton County and Highlands East’s targets are to reduce corporate GHG emissions by 15 per cent across all operations.

The county is also working to create a climate adaptation plan, which will outline how the county will adapt its municipal assets, operations and services to prepare for the actual impacts of climate change. Following that, the county will introduce a community-wide climate change plan, with the same goal of reducing emissions and mitigating climate change’s impact on the community at large. These plans have been spearheaded by McKay, who has served as climate change coordinator since 2019.

“When we’re talking about climate change, we’re referring to those long-term shifts in weather patterns,” McKay said at the outset of her presentation. “So, the impacts of climate change, particularly in Ontario, are often summed up by the phrase ‘warmer, wetter, and wilder.’”

Here in Haliburton, McKay described potential extreme heat events similar to the 2021 heat dome, which killed nearly 600 people in British Columbia. She also said the warmer weather would cause poor conditions for winter sports that depend on colder temperatures, like skiing and snowmobiling.  

In regards to wet weather, McKay pointed to recent flooding events in the county, which have caused significant and costly damages. She also indicated the issue of ice storms which cause power outages, hazardous road conditions, and school closures.

“So, no matter if we have an elderly relative, or an avid skier, or if you live within a floodplain, climate change is impacting us today,” she said. “The future impacts depend on the level of action we take globally, today.”

In her presentation, McKay said Haliburton could expect to see a 2.2 degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2050. She also said the county can expect to see 17 very hot days (above 30 degrees Celisus) by 2050, compared to five very hot days, as reflected in the mean temperature from baseline studies conducted between 1976 and 2005. For winter temperatures, McKay said there may not be any days colder than -30 degrees Celisus by 2080, compared to six from the baseline. 

Throughout the presentation, members of the public who were in attendance were able to use the meeting’s chat function to ask questions, which would be answered following the presentation.

The question-and-answer round began with a question from Hay about methane emissions, and whether the county was considering building a municipal composting centre.

“So the corporate climate change mitigation plans that were approved by each council included the recommended action of exploring potential for organics diversion and for food waste,” McKay responded. “The first step here is really to conduct a waste composition study across four seasons to get a more accurate picture of the food waste organics that are coming into landfill sites.” 

She said the county and municipalities were looking into creating what she called integrated waste management studies. Phase one of Dysart’s integrated waste management study was sent to that council in a report in Jan 2021. 

Carolynn Coburn, EH’s treasurer, asked about the protection of wetlands which prompted an impromptu response from Haliburton County’s warden Liz Danielsen.

“The only thing that I did want to say was that the issue of wetlands has been included in the draft shoreline preservation bylaw,” Danielsen said, alluding to the shoreline preservation bylaw, for which a special meeting of the county council was held on Jan. 17. “And it’s a recommendation by our consultants that we include wetlands in those protected areas. But that’s a decision that is yet to be made … But that is one area that … is a possibility to protect wetlands.”

To help explain what the county can do to preserve wetlands, McKay introduced Steve Stone, Haliburton County’s director of planning. Stone said the first step in preserving wetlands is with study, and garnering interest through educating the community – including events like the Enviro-Cafe. 

“We should be facilitating continued learning on the environment, and monitoring social advantages of protecting small wetlands in regard to the well-being of our community,” he explained. “And this is done, really, through academia, through the local knowledge transfer, etcetera. You take that study, and you build it into education programs, really, to foster awareness, in the broader community, of the many benefits of retaining small wetlands in our neighbourhoods.”

Stone also said that establishing protection regulations and local zoning bylaws would allow the county and municipalities to implement equitable environmental rights, sustainable development practices, and compliance monitoring as needed.

EH secretary ​Katie Paroschy asked about reaching members of the community who are uninterested and even resistant to discussing the climate crisis. McKay responded by saying that while a Haliburton-specific community engagement plan was still in the works, part of its strategy will include changing the way people think about the benefits of acting on climate change mitigation.

“Energy prices are rising,” she said. “And with the pandemic, a lot of people are struggling even just to put food on the table, so framing, you know, energy affordability as an issue is a lens to take … So, communicating those different co-benefits that come with climate action can hopefully get more people on board as well.”

McKay also addressed the subject of retrofitting existing homes and other buildings.

“Certainly building retrofitting is a topic within municipal climate plans,” she said. “The tools municipalities have are somewhat limited. There is [the federal Canada Greener Homes Grant, for up to $5,600 in retrofits], as well as … a grant from what’s called Haliburton Kawartha Renovates, so that’s sort of a local grant.”

According to their website, Haliburton Kawartha Renovates provides a forgivable loan to a maximum of $10,000 for repairs such as roofs, plumbing, heating, foundations, wells and septic systems. A grant to a maximum of $5,000 is also available for modifications to reduce physical barriers like ramps, handrails, chair and bath lifts and countertop height adjustments.

The full Enviro-Cafe presentation, which includes an explanation of the county’s existing climate mitigation plan, and the full question and answer period will be available to view on Environment Haliburton’s website at www.environmenthaliburton.org

Haliburton County’s climate mitigation plan is currently available to view at www.haliburtoncounty.ca/en/planning-and-maps/climate-change.aspx