Communities that know how heavy their carbon footprint is, now face the even more daunting job of figuring out how to reduce it.
Eleven towns, plus the cities of Brandon, Thompson and Winkler, are the first municipalities to grapple with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
They were selected two years ago by the province to lead the municipal charge on climate change through its Community Led Emissions Reductions (CLER) program, which aims to help Manitoba meet its Kyoto accord agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Communities taking part in CLER have now completed inventories of their emissions sources, and set emissions reduction goals, to be reached through local “climate change action plans.”
It has led to a variety of initiatives, including offering rebates for purchases of things like clotheslines, push lawnmower and low-flow toilets.
In Brandon, a compost pilot program and future launch of a methane capture at the landfill are in the works. In the village of St. Laurent they’re eyeing a trash compactor system to reduce the volume of trash and limit trips to deliver recyclables into the city of Winnipeg.
But tackling the biggest emitter, transportation, will be the most challenging.
That’s because smaller centres remain so car dependent, says the CLER co-ordinator for the Morden, Winkler and R. M. of Stanley and Thompson planning district. Fuel emissions account for well over half (62 per cent) of all their GHGs, said Kelly Stock, adding that much of it relates to the thousands of cars travelling daily on Hwy. 3 between Morden and Winkler.
To deal with that, they’re making a bid for funding from the province to establish a shuttle bus program that would first link Winkler and Morden and eventually loop through other communities in the region, Stock said.
They’re also studying the feasibility of constructing a seven-mile bike path between the city and town and organizing carpooling programs.
Virden is another community participating in the CLER program. Newly acclaimed mayor, Jeff McConnell says Virden is looking at an anti-idling bylaw and building more public pathways to encourage people to walk and cycle more to address their GHG emissions.
NEED FOR CHANGE
The CLER program has helped communities grasp what needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gases, McConnell said.
But the real challenge ahead will be implementing changes and convincing residents of the need for those changes.
“The biggest challenge will be getting people to buy in,” said McConnell. “And we haven’t really looked at how we’re going to get people to change.”
Virden is not alone in that challenge. Rural areas may be among the more problematic places to adapt infrastructure and implement lifestyle behavioural changes. We’re not experiencing the traffic congestion or air quality issues of cities, said McConnell.
Which explains why constructing active transportation routes remains low on municipalities’ to-do lists, and why people have a tendency to take the car a couple of blocks they could have easily walked. Or leave vehicles idling in public places.
“We stuck up anti-idling signage at the post office and people said, ‘there’s no smog here, so what’s the point?’” said Mc- Connell.
NO EASY FIX
Moreover, there’s no easy solution for alternative transport between rural communities.
“We’re not going to be building light rail service between our communities,” he said.
“We’re going to face a lot of challenges around the affordability of changing behaviour.”
The $3.5-million CLER pilot program is being delivered in partnership with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities, Conseil de développement économique des municipalités bilingues du Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro, local not-for-profit environmental organizations and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities notes on its website that by 2012, Canadian communities could cut GHG emissions by 20 to 50 megatonnes (Mt) with investments in environmental infrastructure and sustainable transportation infrastructure.
“We’regoingtofacea lotofchallengesaround theaffordabilityof changingbehaviour.”
– JEFF MCCONNELL, MAYOR OF VIRDEN