City council greenlights climate strategy to get Calgary to net-zero by 2050

A strategy to help the City of Calgary reach its goal of zero emissions by 2050 has been approved by city council late Tuesday night. As Adam MacVicar reports, the approval comes after much debate and many questions over what it means for Calgarians.

A strategy that guides the City of Calgary towards its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 was approved by city councillors, late Tuesday night.

City councillors voted 9-6 in favour of the updated climate plan, replacing its previous strategy in place since 2018.

Coun. Sean Chu, Sonya Sharp, Andre Chabot, Richard Pootmans, Jennifer Wyness and Dan McLean were opposed.

“Approving the climate plan is a step that allows city administration to come to us with a fulsome action plan and an accompanying budget in November,” Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek said following council’s decision. “It was critical to move this forward so we can start taking some action.”

The 99-page document, titled Pathways to 2050, includes a mitigation plan to reduce emissions and an adaptation plan to help with the city’s resilience against more damaging weather events like the June 2020 hailstorm.

According to Gondek, the strategy would integrate climate action into how the city operates.

“This strategy is intended to guide action plans from all the various business units in the city to get us to a more sustainable, greener, cleaner future,” Gondek said.

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If every action in the plan is taken, the report shows it would require a cumulative investment of $87 billion by 2050 or $3.1 billion annually.

But city administration said the costs reflected in the report are a cumulative — economy-wide investment — and won’t be covered entirely by Calgary taxpayers.

The plan includes funding from other levels of government, the private sector and actions from individual Calgarians.

“We all care about the environment, but at what cost? This is a pretty ambitious plan,” Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said. “What is that going to cost the average Calgarian?”

City councillors heard Tuesday that city administration will be bringing forward a clear implementation plan with what is feasible.

“We will absolutely have in front of you a clear proposal around what is achievable, and what we believe is affordable to be able to recommend to you so you can make that decision,” City of Calgary planning and development general manager Stuart Dalgleish told city council.

But council heard inaction on climate change could yield a greater price tag in the future, with an estimated annual climate risk of $2.6 billion by 2050, growing to $8 billion per year by 2080.

Earlier in the day, around 100 climate activists rallied on the front steps of city hall to encourage council to give the strategy it’s blessing.

“This is a very important strategy, it’s about combating climate change but it’s also about future prosperity for Calgary,” Rob Tremblay with the Calgary Climate Hub said. “It’s really important that council knows that Calgarians are behind this.”

City modelling shows that hitting net-zero could lead to “cumulative energy savings” of up to $80 billion for Calgarians as well as a generation of $60 billion in gross domestic product by 2050.

“If you talk to any of the energy firms in our city, they all have clear targets, they have action plans on how they’re going to achieve those targets,” Gondek said, “For a municipal government to be saying the same things, and moving in the same responsive manner, capital markets take notice of those things.”

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The strategy projects that all registered vehicles in Calgary will be zero emissions by 2050, and aims to have all buildings in Calgary with a net-zero standard by the same year; 57 per cent of Calgary’s overall emissions come from energy used in residential, commercial and industrial buildings in the city.

The local construction industry has been critical of the feasibility of that part of the plan, which would require the retrofitting of 19,000 homes and 317 commercial buildings to net-zero every year.

“The public needs to buy into this, Ward 6 Coun. Richard Pootmans said. “If the public isn’t romanced, isn’t turned on by the excitement of being your own self-generated, net-zero home, that’s a fantasy right now.”

City administration said the strategy would need to be updated every five years, in line with the city’s budget cycles, to reflect evolving technologies.

More information on how the plan will be implemented is expected in November when city council will build the next four-year budget.

“I don’t think we should let perfection be the enemy of the good,” Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said. “This is a good start.”

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