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Wildfire Thomas fifth largest in history of California

California’s wildfire, named Thomas, is still raging, becoming the worst of the five fires currently destroying the countryside. After spreading to more than 50,000 acres on Sunday, Thomas has set the record as the fifth largest wildfire in the history of the state. The fire is much more severe than those seen in Boston and New York in recent years.

To date, more than 230,000 acres have been destroyed by the fire and almost 5000 homes were issued evacuation orders after being placed in the latest danger zones. Due to unpredictable and shifting winds, combined with low humidity, this has caused the fire to burn uncontrollably for more than a week.

After a week not much has changed. The Governor of California, Rick Brown, issued a sombre statement, telling residents of Southern California this is the new normal. Close to 800 structures have been destroyed by the fire.

“With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up,” Brown said in a statement. ” So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests, in a place thats getting hotter.” Brown also told reporters that he sees extreme fire activity happening on a regular basis for decades to come.

More than 5700 firefighters, from 100 different crews, have been putting in their efforts to help contain and control the wildfires, But heavy winds are making the task extremely difficult. In the past week, firefighters were only able to contain 15 per cent of the vast fire and this number is expected to drop over the next week.

The fire started in Ventura County last Monday. Only one person has died so far — Virginia Pesola, 70, passed away at the scene of a car crash along the evacuation route. There is still a red flag warning in effect for most of Los Angeles.

So far, the state has spent more than $34 million in relief efforts in order to try and contain Thomas. Thousands of residential areas are without electricity and over 200,000  people have had to evacuate their home since last Monday.

The White House has approved additional funding  to combat Thomas and California will receive direct federal assistance. New evacuation orders have also been issued, as the fire threatens another 25,000 homes in the Santa Barbara county. The evacuation orders are for the area spanning Buena Vista Drive to Toro Canyon Road.

Back in October, fires destroyed parts of Northern Calofirnina, killing almost 40 people and destroying close to 9000 homes.

CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere at all-time high

Attention all climate change deniers — the level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is at an all-time high, the highest in 800,000 years according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) have the potential to initiate unpredictable changes in the climate system, because of strong positive feedbacks, leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions,” the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin read.

Some of the factors that influenced the level of carbon dioxide is population growth, intensified agricultural practices, deforestation and land use, industrialization, and energy use from fossil fuels. A strong El Nino in 2015 and 2016 was also a strong contributor as it reduced the capacity of forests and oceans to absorb the gas.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, which means as levels increase, it becomes progressively more difficult to reduce them.

“Without rapid cuts in COand other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet.”

The last time the Earth had a similar concentration of carbon dioxide was three to five million years ago.

The conclusion of this report reaffirms what scientists have been saying for years. Climate change is drastically affecting people’s lives and it will only continue to get worse if society doesn’t stand up and do something about it.

Many developing and developed countries have pledged to help reduce greenhouse gasses, but progress is too slow to make a real difference.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed by 196 countries in December 2015 with the goal of lowering “the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” The United States withdrew from the agreement in June 2017.

The commitments made under the Paris Agreement — Canada promised to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and provincial support for cap and trade programs — will be impossible to reach if the world doesn’t act now. Sustainable development and the investment in renewable energy despite political and bureaucratic ties have never been more important.

“We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed. The last few years have seen enormous uptake of renewable energy, but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure these new low-carbon technologies are able to thrive,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

What does this mean? Government’s need to stop thinking about the cost of sustainable and carbon-free technologies and start to actually implement their plans. Every day citizens can also contribute by investing in renewable energy and green retrofits on their homes. If that seems like too much, start small by taking transit, reducing waste, and using reusable containers in your lunch.

It’s probably too late to make a difference for 2017, but if everyone aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, hopefully the Earth can be saved from an excruciating death.

Christiana Figueres to speak in Toronto about climate change and PPPs

After numerous hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean and insanely sporadic weather hit North America the last few months, talking about the connections between climate change and public infrastructure has never been more important.

On Oct. 11, Christiana Figueres, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will be speaking in Toronto about protecting public infrastructure in an era of global climate change. The event is being hosted by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) and is being called a “pre-conference keynote”.

Figueres is the Global Chair of Mayors for Climate and Energy and Convener of Mission 2020. Previously, she held the position of Executive Secretary of the United Natinosl Framework Convention on Climate Change. She also helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Agreement Her speech will address the implications and consequences of global climate change, while looking to the future and preparing for the public infrastructure needed to make cities sustainable.

Tickets to her keynote (12 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.) are available here.

The event is a prelude to the CCPPP’s 25th Annual Conference on Public-Private Partnerships, set to take place on Nov. 6-7 at the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto. To find out more information about the conference, go here.

Minister Murray resigns as Minister of Environment

On July 31, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has announced his resignation. Chris Ballard, former Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, will replace him in the cabinet.

Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, will be given the position of Minister of Housing.

Murray has dedicated most of his life to public service. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Unlike some politicians, Murray is genuinely passionate about the environment, working tirelessly to ensure the policies enacted by the provincial government followed sustainable practices. He is most known for his instrumental role in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May as well as Ontario’s Climate Chance Action Plan.

Murray announced his resignation Monday morning, saying that he will step down from cabinet immediately, but will remain an MPP until Sept 1.

“As part of the Ontario Liberal Government, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have always tried to bring a fresh and creative approach to public policy and government, making decisions that keep those that matter the most in mind.”

“I ultimately have made the difficult decision, with the support of my partner Rick, to transition from this chapter on to the next chapter of tirelessly working to mobilize to fight climate change at the national level.”

On Sept. 5, Murray will join the Pembina Institute as Executive Director. The Pembina Institute is a 30-year-old Canadian think tank that advocates for clean energy solutions and the overall reduction of fossil fuels.

“Glen is a renowned thought leader on social and environmental issues, with an impressive track record of policy leadership throughout his tenure in elected office,” said David Runnalls, president of the Pembina Institute. “On behalf of the board of directors, I am thrilled that Glen is joining our talented team and know he will propel the Pembina Institute to new heights as we work to solve today’s greatest energy challenges.”

It is unclear at this moment if this change will result in new priorities for the Liberal government, and if Ontario’s climate change plan will still be considered among them.

Six North Atlantic right whales found dead in St. Lawrence

Over the course of June, six North Atlantic right whales were found dead and floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a substantial loss for a species that is already on the endangered species list.

There are only 500 North Atlantic right whales in the wild, and with six dead so suddenly without apparent cause, it accounts for one per cent of the species wiped out in less than a month. If this was compared to humans, it would mean that over 75 million people would be wiped out. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Marine Animal Response Society, the Canadian Coast Guard, and other groups are working together to figure out how to get the whales ashore to find out what is happening to the species.

The whales were found in the area between New Brunswick’s Miscou Island, Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and Northern P.E.I. They are currently floating a considerable way from shore and the weather has been too severe to try to get the whales onto land to begin a necropsy, a forensic examination that would discover what happened. There is only a limited time to complete the assessment and the whales are already decomposing. It is paramount that marine biologists decipher what is going on with the species to develop a plan and prevent more of the endangered whales from dying unexpectedly.

There are many threats to whales that habituate close to port such as being struck by ships, contracting toxic infections, water contaminants, high levels of noise, and global warming. The North Atlantic right whales also feed on zooplankton, which are lowering in population due to the effects of climate change.  There are many reasons that the whales could be dying off so suddenly, and it is integral to the survival of the species to find out why. Hopefully, there is a chance of survival for this rare and beautiful species, one of many marine animals living under threat in the ocean today.

Canada remains dedicated to Paris Agreement despite U.S. decision

The Paris Agreement has been making headlines worldwide after the Trump administration removed themselves from the Paris Climate Agreement and ignited world-wide criticism. Though the United States seems to be doomed to a coal-filled future, where does Canada stand when it comes to Paris Agreement goals?

As it turns out, Canada has a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, but remains dedicated to the accord. When the U.S. dropped out of the Paris Agreement, not one other country followed suit and Prime Minister Trudeau went as far to release a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”

It appears the Canadian government understands climate change is an important issue, but is this country doing enough to combat the devastating effects of carbon emissions? The Columbia Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research and building sustainable communities, released a report card assessing the federal government’s climate change achievements and outlining which areas need improvement. According to the report, entitled Top Asks for Climate Action report,  as of 2015, Canada ranked 58 out of 61 countries for climate protection performance. The government has met certain climate change goals by implementing a national price on carbon, establishing a national transportation strategy, and offering dedicated funding to public transit in its municipalities. Alternatively, things Canada needs to work include setting greenhouse gas targets that would meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and moving towards renewable energy instead of locking the economy into a high carbon path.

The next step would be for Canada to adopt science-led and legally binding greenhouse reduction targets and follow best practices of countries like Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Mexico. As a part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) mandates nationally determined commitments by 2020. Canada’s current targets do not meet the Paris Agreement standards, and these new objectives would need to be set at 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 from the current standing goal of 30 per cent.

South of the border, the Trump government announced on June 1 the United States wouldn’t remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the accord as ‘unfair’. Ignoring the pleas of many U.S. stakeholders, Trump instead offered to renegotiate the terms. The European Union outright refused to engage in negotiations. Instead, the EU plans to bypass the federal government and work directly with U.S. businesses, governors, and mayors to keep up with the climate change commitments.

Though this decision is devastating from an environmental perspective, it opens up key opportunities for Canada. If the U.S. is solely dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, the clean technology sector is ripe for the taking and Canada has the option to become a leader in renewable energy. Since there are only three countries in the world that haven’t signed the Paris Agreement (Syria, Saudi Arabia, U.S.), there are a lot of stakeholders looking for ways to implement clean technology and the green economy will only grow from here.

Though the U.S. has made a critically bad decision to leave the Paris Agreement, Canada and the rest of the world remains dedicated to slowing climate change and saving planet earth. Trudeau is leading the country towards becoming one of the more sustainable places to live in the world, but a lot of work remains. If Canada does set concrete greenhouse reduction goals that match targets set in the Paris Agreement and then actually implements them, the country will be well on its way to trying to combat the inevitable pollution caused by our climate-change-denying-neighbour down south.

Woman of the Week: Karen Farbridge

Karen Farbridge is a straight-forward, confident, and extremely successful woman in Ontario’s sustainability community.  As a previous leader in municipal government, she is charismatic and focused on making the world a better place.

When the former Mayor of Guelph is asked about her proudest accomplishments from her 11 years on council, she is quick to bring it back to the importance of community engagement. “Advancing our practice around engagement and rethinking how local government is involved with sustainability is what I feel the most proud of,” Farbridge says. “People are looking for connections to place and community and they find them in different ways in their lives, and I found it in this way in my own life.”

Farbridge has been involved in the environmental and government non-profit and public sectors for over 20 years. Most recently, she established her consulting agency, Karen Farbridge and Associates after her final term as mayor in 2014.  “The key focus is to implement projects that accelerate growth to create low-carbon and resilient communities,” Farbridge says. “That can entail work with the public sector, [for example] with Natural Resources Canada and Municipal Affairs Ontario, and also in the private sector. It also includes work with Research institutions, such as University of Guelph and York University and the Columbia Institute out of B.C.”

Farbridge has several projects on the go and uses her extensive experience in the political realm to help various organizations with sustainability initiatives. She helped the Columbia Institute in B.C. write a report, Top Asks for Climate Change: Ramping up Low-Carbon Communities, that included a report card assessing climate change initiatives, labelling the successes and which areas needed improvements. The report was released on June 1 and focuses on how the federal government is progressing towards goals pertaining to the Paris Agreement.

Farbridge is also contributing to a collaborative project with the Ontario Climate Consortium and the University of Guelph via the Community Energy Knowledge Action Partnership. This project studies net zero and low-carbon developments across five different Ontario municipalities, taking into account testimonies from a number of urban planners, economic development officers, and community management officers.

Long before becoming mayor, Farbridge was involved in municipal politics. She became a city councillor in 1994 while also working for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Guelph at the same time. She obtained a PhD in biology and spent 10 years in academics at University of Guelph. Farbridge encouraged council to develop a group plan on climate change that focused on the Kyoto protocol. As her career progressed, she served her first term as mayor of Guelph in 2000-2003 and her second and third terms from 2006-2014.

In between her terms as mayor, Farbridge worked with the University of Guelph to develop a community energy plan that was later implemented. “I ran again for Mayor in 2006. That community energy plan was brought forward to the new council and it was adopted,” Farbridge says. “Since that time, I put a lot of time into promoting the community energy plan.”

Farbridge has received several awards including the City Builder Award from the Canadian Urban Institute in 2014 for her leadership in sustainability and community energy. She also received the Clean 50/Clean16 Award from Delta Management Group in 2014, which is awarded annually to 50 individual leaders who are advancing clean and sustainable development in Canada. In 2012, Farbridge was the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada for her contributions and achievements to Canada. Farbridge was elected Guelph’s first female mayor in 1999.

Farbridge is passionate about mentoring women and plays an integral role in environmental charity Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative, which promotes women leaders involved in nature. The organization is currently creating a mentorship program where Farbridge and other notable women in the environmental sector help younger women forward their careers. She is also a part of a mentoring project to help women who have a start-up businesses in Guelph, and has a relationship with a woman in the city to help her build up her start-up.

When Farbridge is taking a break from combatting climate change, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and is looking forward to a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park this summer. She is clearly a nature lover and has made a considerable impact within the sustainable community in Ontario.

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B.C Green and NDP come to an environment-focused agreement

The B.C. Greens and NDP parties have reached an agreement that will allow them to create a minority government and remove Premier Christy Clark from her seat as head of the province. Both parties have made it clear the new agreement is not a coalition — the Green Party will still be able to support their own platforms, but will guarantee any support of an NDP budget or confidence motion.

Both parties signed a confidence agreement that set out specific requirements for both parties to work together in B.C. It is a dream come true for Green supporters across the country as the environment and climate change goals are put at the forefront for the first time in Canadian history. An entire section of the agreement focuses on reducing greenhouse emissions and calls for an increase in the carbon tax and a revitalization of the environmental assessment process in the province. The Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon will most likely cast a vote of no confidence to remove Christy Clark as Premier, though she has confirmed she will remain leader of the opposition.

The agreement takes a hard stance against the pipeline expansion of the Kinder Morgan project and promises to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the project. The Site C hydro dam, another controversial environmental project, will also be sent to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review of its economic viability. Kinder Morgan’s shares fell on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange due to the uncertainty of the Kinder Morgan project and the recent coalition government.

The electoral results and vote recount has cast doubt onto the ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system and is bringing up the issue of reform. The first-past-the-post system allows people to elect representatives for their ward, and the political party with the most representative becomes the leader of the province. The agreement between the NDP and the Green includes the discussion of changing to proportional representation, which would cast a popular vote for the premier or prime minister in addition to a vote for the candidate in each riding. The plan is to have a referendum in 2018. The Federal Liberal government pushed for electoral reform in their campaign and once Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, they dropped the issue. The new government in B.C desires to bring that issue to the forefront.

The NDP-Green agreement marks a new relationship between two parties that have traditionally both been in disagreement. If the no confidence vote dethrones Clark and NDP leader John Horgan becomes Premier, it will be interesting to witness the environment become an issue of focus on a level never-before-seen in the province and across Canada.

Toronto pushes climate change to back burner

Toronto is taking an aggressive approach to tackling climate change with a new plan to transform the city into a green metropolis — or are they?

TransformTO, the new climate change policy being proposed to city council, was supposed to be discussed on May 24, but it was deferred until the July 5.  This came as a disappointment to Toronto climate supporters, who would love to see the city embrace a plan that will actively decrease greenhouse gases in one of the Canada’s largest city.

The ambitious climate change plan would see Toronto reduce greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050. The city has already lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent, which has exceeded the six per cent 2012 climate change goal. In order to meet this more strenuous climate change goal by 2050 though, serious action is needed. The plan will take aggressive action to lower emissions, including diverting 95 per cent of waste from landfills to recycling programs and 100 per cent of public use vehicles will use zero-carbon energy. There would be more focus on creating bike lanes, infrastructure related to low-carbon vehicles, and cycling parking.

The climate change plan also wants Toronto to focus on building green houses, condos, and apartment buildings in the future. The plan would mandate city structures to have near-zero greenhouse gases by 2030 and retrofit most other buildings by 2040. Retrofitting buildings will save 40 per cent of energy costs and the city also wants to use renewable energy that would lower the amount of heat that homes use to 20 per cent of the rate used in 2015. This goal would be achieved by collecting waste heat and converting it into power.

TransformTO is an ambitious move that will ultimately help support creating a greener and healthier city — if it gets off the ground, that is. The City of Toronto would benefit by taking the climate change plan seriously and pushing it through as a key item in the July 5 council meeting to ensure no more delays.

Woman of the Week: Susan Swail

With rising housing costs and developers vying for land to build on, ensuring the safety of Ontario’s Greenbelt is no easy feat. Principal of Lloyd Swail Consulting, Susan Swail, is one of the women leading the fight to keep this preservation of farmland protected for years to come.

Swail launched her own consulting firm in 2008, which has enabled her to work on several environmental policy projects at once. “I’ve been doing policy analysis, facilitation and strategic communications in the planning field for the last 10 years. I created this consulting firm so I could work on project based contracts. I can work on a number of projects on the same time,” Swail says. She is currently on contract with Environmental Defence and the Greenbelt Foundation.

Swail works for Environmental Defence as the Smart Growth Program Consultant of the Greenbelt and is also working on a review that focuses on the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) review. During the OMB review, over 5000 letters were submitted to the province to obtain funding for citizens and citizen groups, and upholding provincial and municipal plans. Swail conducted a literature review and interviewed many stakeholders, including planners, ratepayers and lawyers to develop a policy position for Environmental Defence.

Swail and the non-profit await the new OMB legislation to see if the recent changes are a success. “[Environmental Defence] didn’t get everything we asked for. We’re still waiting to see what happens. We wanted opportunities to have legal support and advice for ratepayer groups who are launching appeals and we don’t know if the legal advice is intended to be free,” Swail says. “The province is also looking at a joint board hearing that would refer environmental planning matters to the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) rather than being heard by just a OMB chair. The provincial announcement suggests they are considering joint ERT, and OMB board hearings. It is important have an environmental lens when making land policy decisions that effect groundwater, and natural heritage features like forests and wetlands.” Originally, Environmental Defence asked the OMB to refer environmental matters directly to ERT, but instead the legislation suggests having a joint board with the OMB and the ERT.

Swail was also a city councillor for the King Township for three years from 2000 to 2003, which helped foster her passion for policy and giving citizens a voice. “It was an exciting time to be on council because Oak Ridges Conservation Plan was being created at that time,” Swail says. When asked about the most important lessons she took from being a councillor, she explained that giving citizens a voice is so vital and being able to negotiate solutions between stakeholders and citizens is what really counts.

“When I was councillor, there was a situation with a developer who wanted to build on 107 acres in the headwaters of the Humber River.  The citizens were adamantly against it. We negotiated between the ratepayers, the Region of York, the Conservation Authority, Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust and the City of Toronto,” Swail says. “In the end, the developer agreed to make a gift of the land and recieved a donation receipt. Today the tableland is part of the York Region Forest.”

After Swail lost the next election, she moved to the Oak Ridges Land Trust,and eventually became the Program and Outreach Manager of the Greenbelt Foundation. Swail returned to York University in 2008 to do a master’s degree in land use planning and launched her own consulting company from there. At York, she was awarded the MITACS Research Award for the research project, Building Sustainable Communities in South Simcoe.

Swail believes the most prevelant environmental issue today is climate change for land use conservation projects. She has dedicated many years to sustainable planning, helping the environment and trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change through supporting and implementing conservation land use projects over the years. She has served as the executive of many charitable organizations for the last 20 years.

Her passion for the environment began in 1990 when she and her husband moved to Nobleton in 1990 from High Park because house prices in Toronto were too high. “I got involved in my new community right away in the Parks Committee and then co-founded a local ratepayer group,” Swail says. “They were going to put in a larger sewer system in around Nobleton, which would traveled over 17 km of farmland to serve 3000 people, not economically or environmentally sustainable.   Instead, we got a local sewer system put into our town and Nobleton is still a complete community today.”

Swail is also an advocate for women who are passionate about the environment. “I mentor women whenever I can. When I was working at Environmental Defence, I had a call at least once a month from women who wanted to get involved in the environment,” Swail says. “I took at least a dozen of people out for coffee and helped them out to understand what it takes to get involved in the environment, emphasizing the importance of volunteering and networking.” Swail also noted that being a considerate woman in the business world can go a long way to helping other women in the industry.

When Swail isn’t at the frontlines protecting the Greenbelt, she is an avid reader. Currently, she is reading Walking Home by Kent Greenberg and Dark Age Ahead By Jane Jacobs. She also enjoys visiting with her six-month-old granddaughter, hiking with her husband and three sons on the Oak Ridges Moraine, cooking and gardening.

 

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