As mentioned in previous updates, 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 out on the project’s progress and more recently, as part of Sustainable Orillia’s 2022 planning process – support to help implement approved project recommendations was embedded into our 2022 Strategic Plan.
Anchored on both qualitative and quantitative input, 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 priority strategies with the most potential to reduce Orillia’s carbon footprint over the next five years – providing focus for the City’s planning and investments in the short-term. The project was launched in spring 2021 and it is a testimony to the commitment of everyone involved, that the final recommendations are targeted for Council’s review and ultimate approval as early as January 2022. Remarkable timing considering the complexities and critical nature of this project.
Since our last update in mid-November, activity on the project has continued. Much of it has been behind the scenes … as the consultants modeled projections for the community plan, but more about that in a moment. More visible have been 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… Renee Recoskie was particularly enthusiastic about the youth engagement on the project. Two of the focus groups were dedicated to the younger demographic and Renee 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. Although organizing the focus groups took extra time, in Renee’s words, it was very worthwhile and she confirmed that all of the focus group findings 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 public survey to the CBSC. This survey was completed earlier in the fall. It was an on-line survey, that asked community members to respond to a series of multiple choice, ranking and open-ended questions related to Community targets, vision and potential action plans.
One of the biggest learnings and takeaways from the survey was ‘who participated’ and equally important ‘who didn’t’. 245 community members participated – which although a solid sampling for surveys such as these, a closer analysis tells us there is still much work to be done to increase ‘climate literacy’ and citizen engagement across all of Orillia. Proportionally it is the older cohorts and higher income households with the highest representation. 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 important and 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 well as from all areas of the community in future consultations. 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 more representation into these discussions and decisions is always welcome (and crucial) – please don’t hesitate to contact us c/o ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ with any helpful comments.
The Steering Committee was also given an overview of what the current modeling is showing for the Community Plan – the Business as Usual or BAU projections. The BAU scenario is a projection of energy use and GHG emissions in Orillia in 2050, should the community continue on its current course. Data was collected with assistance and input from the City. Assumptions were identified to supplement any gaps in available data… all of which is transparent and accessible. The baseline energy and emissions inventory year is 2016 and the modelling process involved regular validation of observed data against broader provincial averages at each modelling stage.
The data was presented numerous ways, with the top-line projecting that without doing anything, community energy consumption will continue to increase in Orillia by an overall 10.4% and the corresponding increase in community emissions will be 11.2%. Increases were identified across the board… and presented by 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 staffers – collecting their input and advice that will strengthen the final draft. They are currently working to complete the scenario modelling, with recommended actions, costs and consequences for presentation at another Special Council meeting later in January. Readers will recall that the ‘Corporate’ or Municipal Government Plan was presented to Council in late October … setting the stage for this second and equally, if not more impactful review.
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, Renee continues to remind us that the real heavy lifting begins with implementation. Once any or all of the plan’s recommendations are approved it will trigger some change in all of our daily lives and as citizens we can expect to make some changes that will impact how we go about our lives … and we must 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. Similar to all organizations dedicated to sustaining the quality of human life on this planet, we will always want more to be done and sooner … however here in Orillia, we are doing something, which provides not only direction, but also hope… and that’s the key.
To be continued…