Climate Change

It?s hard to imagine a world without polar bears, but that may be the world our children inherit if we don?t do more to stop climate change.

Just ask Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, who says she can see climate change at work in Iqualuit, Nunavut, where she lives.

Ice used to form on Frobisher Bay in October, she says, but now it forms later in the winter and leaves earlier in the spring.

?It makes it tougher on us and tougher on the wildlife, like the polar bear,? says Watt-Cloutier, who wants the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of toxins.

She says ?the warming? has created ?tumultuous change? for the Inuit. This includes rapid melting of the permafrost, unpredictable ice conditions, more intense and longer blizzards, and southern species like yellow-jacket wasps moving northward.

?The Arctic is now considered the early warning for the world. We?ve become the health barometer for the planet,? she says. ?I?ve always said, ?If you protect the Arctic, you?ll save the planet.??

When international government officials and environmental activists, including Watt-Cloutier, converge on Montreal for the Fourth Municipal Leaders Summit on Climate Change from Dec. 5 to 7, they?ll focus on ways to deal with the effects of climate change in the Arctic and around the world.

The summit is organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), in collaboration with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the City of Montreal and Metropolis, with funding from the Government of Canada and the United Nations Environment Programme. ICLEI?s membership includes more than 600 cities, towns and counties worldwide.

Municipal governments have a key role to play in combating climate change, because they control or influence the sources of close to 50 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

Canadian municipalities at the summit will share how they are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They?ll also demonstrate how they are building sustainable communities.

Canada?s national municipal government organization, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), has taken a lead role in mobilizing municipal governments to fight climate change.

FCM,representing more than 1,100 Canadian municipal governments, manages and administers the Green Municipal Fund (GMF), a $500-million federal endowment administered by FCM?s Centre for Sustainable Community Development. The Centre works with municipalities on projects designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy and increase the sustainability of Canadian communities.

FCM was one of the first organizations to endorse Canada?s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. Its Partners for Climate Change (PCP) program provides support to municipalities to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change. PCP is made up of 128 municipal governments representing 60 per cent of Canada?s population.

The PCP program consists of a framework of five milestones designed to help municipal governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, Calgary became the first municipality in Canada to achieve the highest milestone in the PCP program. The city has undertaken a range of initiatives, including improving the overall fuel efficiency of the city?s vehicle fleet through new practices and technology that reduce consumption and increase the use of cleaner and renewable fuels.

City buildings produce 40 per cent of Calgary?s greenhouse gas emissions, and the city has adopted strict environmental standards for all new city buildings. The city now requires that buildings larger than 500 square metres must exceed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver rating.

One of Calgary?s most ambitious initiatives relates to its electricity needs. ENMAX, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the city of Calgary, is building an 80 megawatt wind-power generating facility southeast of Calgary for a cost of $140 million. The agreement will require the city to purchase at least 75 per cent of its electric power from ENMAX.

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?We?ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions with that 75 per cent in 2007 by 281,000 tonnes annually. When we go to 90 per cent in 2012, it?s 337,000 tonnes annually,? says Calgary Alderman Joe Ceci. ?We think we?re setting a standard with this agreement for environmental stewardship for municipalities across North America.?

Winnipeg, meanwhile, is implementing an integrated greenhouse gas reduction strategy that will provide the city with specific recommendations for reducing municipal, corporate and community carbon dioxide emissions.

Supported by the Green Municipal Fund, the project will improve energy performance in a number of sectors, including energy services, forestry, agriculture, industry, transportation, building facilities, new construction, wastewater and municipal departments. Community members will help to establish an emissions-reduction target.

Back in Iqualuit, Sheila Watt-Cloutier says the Arctic can serve as a barometer for the planet, adding that the rest of the world must take special note of the Inuit experience.

?For us, it?s much more than about environmental issues. It?s about our health, our security, about our culture and the survival of our culture,? she says.

?We?re being told there is a 10 to 15 year window for the world to address and cut greenhouse gas emissions. There are all kinds of adaptations we?re trying, but it will eventually be too hard for us to keep up. At the end of the century, if predictions come true, ice and snow would not exist. The polar bear would be extinct.?

Gord Steeves is a Winnipeg councillor and First Vice-President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

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