Fort St. John grapples with climate change

As officials from around the globe meet in Denmark to tackle the big issue of climate change, local leaders are saying baby steps in places like Fort St. John can make all the difference in the world.

Last week, scientists presented their findings to world leaders at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen.

The findings indicate that the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions need to peek in the next decade, then must drastically be cut down. Otherwise, it would be too late to mitigate the anticipated two-degree Celsius warming of the planet, which could make many areas of Earth inhospitable to humans.

In the City of Fort St. John, the issue of climate change is starting to get some attention.

Fort St. John Mayor Bruce Lantz says if Canada were to sign a drastic CO2 emissions agreement, it would be quite difficult for the entire city to become carbon-neutral by 2020.

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The city as a corporation, however, is taking its own steps to become carbon-neutral by 2012. Fort St. John has signed the ‘Climate Action Charter’, and may have to purchase offsets to reach carbon neutrality.

More than 170 municipalities in B.C. have signed the charter, including Dawson Creek and Vancouver.

Lantz points to a recent Fort St. John pledge that will see all future municipal buildings designed to LEED standards. He also says the new Water Management and Conservation Program, which includes water meters on every home, has resulted in 42 per cent savings in 2009.

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The Northern Environmental Action Team is one group looking to change attitudes and show residents that environmental stewardship doesn’t require drastic changes.

Spokesperson Sally Emory says just because the city doesn’t have an anti-idling bylaw in place, residents should be aware of the environmental impact that idling has.

She says for every litre of gas that is burned, the average vehicle produces 2.4 kilograms of Carbon Dioxide.

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She says instead of establishing an anti-idling bylaw, residents should engage in an idle-reduction campaign.

The City has discussed the idea of an anti-idling bylaw, but at this point, has only implemented it on the city’s fleet. But, the entire city might be incorporated in the bylaw, once the city completes its Community Energy and Emissions Plan.

Mayor Lantz says it’s one thing to change policies, but it’s more important to change attitudes and behaviours.

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Lantz also says no matter what the city and its residents do, industry needs to get on board.

Numerous representatives from oil and gas organizations declined to comment on what they would like to see come out of the climate change summit in Copenhagen. Reps say they can’t speculate on how the new climate charter will affect local industry, until they know what they are dealing with.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Resources referred to its website for its climate change policy principles.

That website states that the CAPP wants a balanced “3E” climate policy that delivers Economic growth, Environmental protection, and a secure and reliable Energy supply. It also calls for investment in the technologies necessary for significant reductions in GHG emissions in Canada.

CAPP says there have been many breakthroughs in technologies that are being used by Canadian companies.  They include Carbon Capture & Storage, as well as using ‘waste heat’ to reduce emissions.

The Provincial Minister of State for Climate Action, John Yap, was in Fort St. John on December 16th.

He says he has had the opportunity to meet with industry leaders, who have shown interest in several provincial programs.

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Mayor Lantz says the industry leaders he has talked to recognize the issues at stake, and they want to do what they can to mitigate their environmental footprint.

Emory, meanwhile, remains hopeful the energy industry will cut back on emissions, especially with the new technology that is developing.

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She says in the meantime, small steps like turning off a car while you cheer on your favorite hockey team will actually make a big difference.

The climate change summit in Copenhagen wraps up on Friday, December 18th.

By Christine Rumleskie