I want to take a moment to reflect on the summer we experienced and the incredible teamwork and dedication we saw throughout our region during the wildfires.
The collaboration between municipal fire departments, BC Wildfire Service, local governments and thousands of volunteers was inspiring and I am very thankful for everyone’s service to our region. It is going to take a similar spirit of prolonged teamwork and collaboration to combat the root cause of the wildfires and floods our region has experienced over the past several years.
Local and regional governments influence approximately 50 per cent of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so we are intent on trying to influence our community’s shift toward a low-carbon lifestyle and respond effectively to climate impacts.
The City of Kelowna’s actions have always focused on doing what we can to mitigate factors contributing to climate change along with making adaptations to limit the effects of climate change. As the city’s current five-year Community Climate Action Plan reaches the end of its life, staff are in the process of developing the next phase of a Climate Resilient Kelowna Strategy that will map out plans to reduce our carbon footprint and continue the process of rebuilding our city in a more sustainable way. That strategy is expected to be completed early in 2024.
We know that we must continue to provide options to help Kelowna residents reduce GHG emissions. Along with promoting healthy lifestyles, the city has invested heavily in “active” transportation corridors and encouraged other modes of travelling around our city in ways that reduce GHG emissions—walking, cycling, scooters, electric bikes, transit and supporting the use of ride sharing opportunities.
At the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in Vancouver, I met with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming to discuss progress on a new transit operation centre, which we need to expand and improve local transit service.
The City of Kelowna will benefit from $9 million in senior government funding that will see upgrades at our current transit facility for service expansion and initial electric battery procurement for buses. In addition, funding will help advance the design of the new transit operations centre that will allow expanded transit service and the electrification of the entire fleet over time.
Decarbonizing new and existing buildings has also been a major component in meeting the city’s GHG emissions reduction targets. The 50-year-old Parkinson Recreation Centre, for example, is one of the largest emitters of GHG among all City of Kelowna properties, and we expect the new facility to be a net-zero carbon building. We are also developing an energy concierge pilot program to support homeowners through what can be a complicated home energy retrofit journey.
In 2018, YLW became carbon accredited through Airports Council International (ACI) and its carbon accreditation program. As part of the ongoing program, in June 2022, YLW received Level 2 carbon accreditation from ACI, gaining recognition of our efforts to measure and reduce our GHG emissions. We are currently working on a plan to further reduce energy consumption and to meet our commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
The city has a strategic energy management plan that is targeting a GHG emissions reduction of 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030 for all corporate facilities and will implement equipment upgrades accordingly.
Current actions to reduce GHG emissions include:
• Focusing growth in the five urban centres and along major transit corridors with a goal of putting more people and more jobs within easy walking distance of reliable, direct transit service?
• Developing an energy concierge pilot program to support homeowners with energy retrofits
• Top-up rebates for heat pump space heating, heat pump water heaters, electrical service upgrades, and electric vehicle (EV) chargers in multi-unit residential buildings
• Amendments to the zoning bylaw to include EV ready requirements for new residential developments
• A new climate action and environmental stewardship department to apply a climate lens to policy development and decisions
• 22 EV chargers on city properties with plans to install more
• The city has completed a deconstruction pilot project on city-owned homes to assess waste reduction options and reduce lifecycle GHG emissions
• Continuing the Neighbourwoods program to encourage citizens to help grow and preserve Kelowna’s urban forest
Environmental protection and climate change adaptation are also essential for the City of Kelowna as we take measures to protect our beautiful landscape.
The City of Kelowna was recently awarded the Climate and Energy Action Award at UBCM for our FireSmart Community Chipping program, which has collected well over 100 metric tonnes of vegetation to reduce wildfire risk.
Other environmental protection and climate adaptation initiatives in place include:
• Continued work on the Mill Creek Flood Protection Project (year four of an eight-year project) to improve flood passage and public safety on Mill Creek
• Initiated development of a water security plan
• Amended the Development Application Procedures Bylaw to require a pre-development tree inventory to identify trees that may require root zone protection and help ensure trees proposed for the development are retained and protected
• Finalizing a sustainable urban forestry strategy to expand Kelowna’s urban tree canopy. (This year more than 1,000 trees were planted)
• Continued implementation of the Community Wildfire Resilience Plan
Along with council’s other priorities of acting on crime and safety, affordable housing, homelessness, transportation and agriculture, we have a lot of important work to do. An Oct. 16 report to council at the six-month point since priorities were developed provided encouraging evidence we are making progress on all priorities.
Ultimately, for Kelowna to become resilient to climate change, it will require collaboration with all levels of government, businesses, organizations and the broader community.
At the time of writing this column, conversations are happening between the federal and provincial government regarding the federal carbon tax. It will be interesting to see how the policy evolves in the coming weeks, months and years. Nonetheless, as a local government, we are uniquely positioned to influence this shift and how our community will grow, how we commute, interact and protect natural assets to maintain the quality of life we cherish in Kelowna.
We will all breathe easier if we work together to protect our environment and lessen the impacts on our warming climate. This is something the city has done in the past and I can assure you city council will continue to use a climate lens when reviewing city policies, infrastructure and programs.
Tom Dyas is the mayor of Kelowna.