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A Year-End Update on Orillia’s Climate Future Project

The most significant sustainability initiative currently underway in Orillia is the development of a Community Climate Change Action Plan (CCCAP).  This plan, now appropriately christened ‘Orillia’s Climate Future’, is being led by the City, with support and input from all corners of the community.   Since its inception, Sustainable Orillia has provided ongoing input as part of several committees.  We continue to monitor and report on the project’s progress.  More recently, as part of Sustainable Orillia’s 2022 planning process – support to help implement the final, approved CCCAP recommendations was embedded into our 2022 Strategic Plan. 

The ultimate goal of Orillia’s Climate Future is to identify actions and goals that enable Orillia to achieve net-zero emission status by 2050 or sooner.   Along with a longer-term vision, the plan will identify 20 – 30 low-carbon actions with the most potential to reduce Orillia’s carbon footprint.  Orillia’s Climate Future project was launched in the spring of 2021 and it is a testimony to the commitment of everyone involved that the team will be ready to consult with Council on these low-carbon priority items as early as January 2022 – remarkable timing considering the complexities and critical nature of this project.    Final approval and adoption will follow, once Council’s input is incorporated. 

 Since our last update in mid-November, activity has included a series of focus groups and several meetings with community stakeholders, including the Community-Based Steering Committee (CBSC) on November 25th.  In a recent conversation with the Project Leader, Renée Recoskie (Orillia’s Manager of Property & Environmental Sustainability); Renée was particularly enthusiastic about the youth engagement on the project.  Two of the focus groups were dedicated to the younger demographic and Renée noted that the quality of their feedback was very pertinent.  This generation is aware that they will bear the burden of our actions or inactions, and their engagement regarding the climate crisis is very personal, informed and relevant.  “All of the focus group findings” said Renée, “have been a rich source of ideas and suggestions that will influence the final recommendations.”

On November 25th, the project team presented the findings from the earlier public survey to the CBSC.  One of the biggest learnings and takeaways from the survey was ‘who participated’ and equally important ‘who didn’t’.  A total of 245 community members participated – a solid sampling for surveys such as these – but a closer analysis suggests there is still much work to be done to increase ‘climate literacy’ and citizen engagement across all of Orillia.  Proportionally the respondents were mainly from older cohorts and higher income households.  We must find ways to reach and engage the majority of families across Orillia, if we are to be effective in getting carbon emissions down to net-zero.   

Greater participation and partnership with the Indigenous community is also a priority. Their specific concerns and priorities are especially important.  Tapping into the great learning to be gained from their perspective and traditional teachings is equally significant.  With only 2% of the respondents identifying as Indigenous – we need to find ways to ensure greater participation from this community.  As experienced with the youth focus groups – the rewards and learning from that extra proactivity can be game changing.   Suggestions on how to expand the sustainability message and bring wider representation into these discussions and decisions is always welcome (and crucial). Please don’t hesitate to contact us at ‘info@sustainableorillia.ca’ with any suggestions in this regard. 

At its November 25th meeting, the Steering Committee was also given an overview of what the current modeling is showing for the Community Climate Action Plan, specifically, the Business as Usual or BAU projections.   The BAU scenario is a projection of energy use and GHG emissions in Orillia up to 2050, should the community continue on its current course.   

The data indicated that if nothing changes or is done leading up to 2050, community energy consumption will continue to increase in Orillia by 10.4% overall and the corresponding increase in community emissions will be 11.2%.   Increases were identified across the board… and calculated across various user categories, such as industrial, commercial, residential and municipal users.   With that benchmark in place, the project team has begun the task of identifying what they call ‘The Big Moves’ or potential changes that can reduce emissions across each category of energy use.  

This analysis has informed a draft version of the Community Plan, which was recently presented to senior City staff;  to collect their input and advice in order to strengthen the final draft. City staff are currently working to complete the scenario modelling – with recommended actions, costs and consequences – for presentation at a Special Council meeting during the first quarter of 2022.   

Upon completion, Orillia will join more than fifty Canadian cities and towns with similar Community Climate Change Action Plans focused on achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.  As we approach the final review and approvals, Renée continues to remind us that the real heavy lifting begins with implementation.   Approval of any or all of the plan’s recommendations will trigger change in our daily lives.  As citizens we can expect to make some changes that will impact how we go about our lives and we need to help our neighbours understand and get on board with these changes as well.   The climate crisis is an existential threat to us all and we must use this dwindling window for change to sustain our community, our environment and quality of life for generations to come. 

Sustainable Orillia salutes the Orillia’s Climate Future initiative and the City of Orillia for taking this critical step.  Like all organizations dedicated to sustaining the quality of human life on this planet, we, at Sustainable Orillia will always want more to be done and sooner rather than later…  however with this plan Orillia is doing something, which provides not only direction, but also hope…   and that’s the key.  

To be continued… 

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