Collision of financial budget and carbon budget approaches

· The Pulse

Edmonton is blazing a trail when it comes to incorporating a carbon budget into its decision-making, but a lot of things still have to be figured out when it comes to applying the concept during this year's crucial budget deliberations.

As city council sets its four-year financial budget this fall, it also has to take into account the implications of its decisions on its ability to stay within a carbon budget of 135 megatonnes as of 2050, as well as its ability to achieve interim goals to decrease community-based net greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2025 and by 50% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

How that happens is still a work in progress, said Harmalkit Rai, the city's deputy city treasurer and branch manager of financial services, on Episode 185 of Speaking Municipally, Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

"There will be an annual reporting-back mechanism, most likely in the fall, where we're going to be showing council (where) they are in terms of tracking towards their carbon targets," Rai said. "It's yet to be seen how we adapt our decision-making process and what kind of accountability we build into this process."

To live up to the Community Energy Transition Strategy, Edmonton will need to spend about $100 million annually on capital infrastructure and catalyst investments to decrease emissions across the board. That is not currently budgeted for but will be up for discussion as part of the 2023-26 budget.

"There's stuff that's already doing, but there will be a lot more we'll have to discuss as a part of the budget deliberations in terms of investments to achieve these targets," Rai said, encouraging Edmontonians to participate in the city's budget engagement, which is gathering feedback until July 17.

A line graph showing Edmonton's historical per capita emissions and the required trajectory to stay within the carbon budget, which involves a steep decline from 17.99 tonnes/person in 2022 to 3.2 in 2030

To stay within Edmonton's carbon budget of 135 megatonnes of carbon between now and 2050, per capita emissions will have to drop precipitously over the next four-year financial budget cycle and beyond, indicates a November 2019 document. (Information brief: Carbon Budget and Accounting)

Though much remains to be determined, the city has already won an award for its carbon budget from the American Planning Association.

"We are one of the first municipalities that are exploring this, and that's not an easy thing to do. We don't really have any reference model, or any best practice to refer to, so we're being pretty courageous," Rai said. "That's essentially what this award is for."

When they were running for office, most members of city council indicated a willingness to follow through.

During the 2021 election campaign, Taproot asked candidates this question: "Should effects on the climate be taken into account in every decision city council makes?" Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and eight of the successful council candidates answered "Yes, every decision has climate decisions." Three councillors — Jennifer Rice, Tim Cartmell, and Sarah Hamilton — answered "Yes, for some decisions but not all," and Karen Principe did not answer.

Regarding the Community Energy Transition Strategy, councillors Ashley Salvador and Jo-Anne Wright said it was "a good start, but we need to go farther to reach our goals," with most of the remaining successful candidates saying "it's a strong plan; we just need to follow it." Rice said the action items are too expensive, and Principe did not answer.

Hear more about the city's carbon budget, not to mention a surprising (well, not surprising) number of Hamilton puns from co-hosts Troy Pavlek and Mack Male, on the July 1 edition of the podcast: