'The defining issue': How city council candidates want to tackle climate change

Most candidates running for council think the city is on the right track with its Community Energy Transition Strategy, with many who answered the Taproot Survey saying it's a good start but needs to go further.

A few, however, consider the action items too expensive. Incumbents tend to think it's a strong plan and we just need to follow it, though there are a couple of exceptions — Moe Banga said the plan needs to go further, while Jon Dziadyk said the plan is too expensive.

The city first approved the Community Energy Transition Strategy in 2015 to tackle climate change. This year, city council revised the strategy to include targets aligned with the Paris Agreement. Implementing the plan will require $24 billion in public and private investment over the next 10 years. Without action, the strategy suggests that more frequent and intense weather events could reduce Edmonton's GDP by $3.2 billion annually by the 2050s.

"I think it's about time our council and the leadership of the mayor really reflects we're in a climate emergency," Shafraaz Kaba, co-chair of the city's Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee, told Taproot. He said that the next council will have a large impact on whether the city's strategy is successful or not.

"When they do their capital budget ... they really will have a massive impact, not just for the next few years, but for the next generation. How we build (infrastructure) and how we reinforce communities to be less carbon-intensive is where we'll have the most impact, starting today," Kaba said.

And when it comes to those who think the strategy's action items are too expensive, Kaba said the cost of not implementing them will be far worse.

"I'm just not at all interested in hearing 'Can we afford it?' It's 'How much of a future do we really want to have?'"

An array of faces of the members of the City of Edmonton's energy transition climate resilience committee

Members of the city's Energy Transition Climate Resilience Committee. (City of Edmonton)

Kaba, who is an Edmonton architect, said that the next council should consider every decision a climate decision, a sentiment also expressed by Edmontonians who participated in Taproot's People's Agenda project.

"Climate change policy should be the government's first priority," said one participant at a listening session earlier this year.

Thirty-nine candidates, including mayoral contenders Amarjeet Sohi, Diana Steele, and Brian (Breezy) Gregg, agreed that climate should be taken into account for all decisions. Twenty-seven more said it should be considered for some decisions but not all, and one — mayoral candidate Rick Comrie — said the majority of decisions don't have climate implications. (Comrie withdrew from the race on Oct. 13 and formally endorsed Mike Nickel.)

Currently, most of the city's decisions do not take climate change into account directly. The Community Energy Transition Strategy includes an action for the city to monitor and report on the carbon budget and to integrate a carbon accounting framework into all operating and capital budgeting decisions and priority-setting by 2022.

A Taproot explainer by Scott Lilwall breaks it down like this: "With a carbon budget, the city has a certain amount of carbon to 'spend' if it wants to do its part to reduce the impacts of climate change." But unlike a financial budget where it's possible to bring in extra funds to offset overspending, the carbon budget reflects the total net carbon the city can emit. Council will have to consider that when determining how to balance tackling climate change alongside other key city issues.

Kaba said he feels hopeful knowing that so many candidates indicated that the city's current strategy needs to go further — it bodes well for how those elected will handle what the United Nations has called "the defining issue of our time."

For example, he'd like to see council take stronger action by regulating net zero energy within construction and building bylaws.

"The city elected not to add regulation but instead only provide incentives for that, which is going to lessen the uptake and the speed at which we're able to accomplish certain goals," Kaba said.

"I really hope going forward some of those actions can be expedited and reinforced ... to really change behaviour and change the status quo."

You can take the Taproot Survey to see how you align with the candidates on 30 questions. You can also look at candidates' responses to each question or examine each candidate's answers.