Regina stalls on climate change with a surprise conference announcement

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

There was a lot of excitement around the “Make Regina a Renewable City” Motion when it was brought to council in October of 2018. The gallery was packed with supporters. Twelve delegations spoke in support of it. And in the months that have followed, Regina’s Renewable City Motion has been mentioned at local climate rallies and discussed by environmental activists and by folk who are hoping our city will use it to chart a greener future.

And if you’re one of those people who’ve been excited to see what first steps the Renewable City Motion will inspire, good news! City administration has returned with their report on the subject a couple months early.

If you were hoping their report would immediately be followed by fast, dramatic action — solar panels over every surface parking lot, an electric vehicle charger on every corner — well, prepare for disappointment because, after 10 months with the motion, administration has emerged to recommend that we…

host a conference!

Because as we all know, there’s no problem that more talking can’t fix.

According to administration’s report, this Energy And Sustainability Conference “will focus on best practices in energy management and environmental sustainability to interested parties in the community as well as other municipalities and partners across Canada.”

And whatever emerges from the conference will be used to develop an Energy and Sustainability Framework that will be focused on the City of Regina as an organization.

“This means that efforts are focused on the City’s fleet and transportation, facility heating and cooling, and electricity,” continues the report.

The conference is to be held in May 2020 and administration says the Energy and Sustainability Framework will be produced after the conference and presented to council in the third quarter of 2020.

This may all seem to be a rather cautious first step along the road to remaking Regina as a renewable city — especially when you look back on the urgency of council’s discussion in 2018 and how they were expecting the framework itself to be brought forward at the end of 2019.

In fact, to guarantee that whatever report came forward didn’t just kick the can down the road, Councillor Bob Hawkins amended the motion so that administration’s report would include four new, concrete actions for improving the city’s sustainability.

Bob will have to wait until next year for those four concrete actions, as administration says those will also be developed through the Energy And Sustainability Conference.

And so the can gets kicked.

Two of the Renewable City Motion’s movers seem to have accepted the delay. In fact, Councillor Joel Murray points to elements in the Regina context that need exploration in a wider forum.

“I think Saskatchewan is unique in the aspect that we cannot buy or sell electricity as a municipality —  as a private entity, we have to buy it from Sask Power.”

And thanks to Sask Power’s monopoly over electricity generation, the city can put up as many solar panels it wants, but as long as it remains tied into the provincial grid, our local energy mix can only be as sustainable as the crown decides to make it.

At present, Sask Power only has a target to reach a 50 per cent renewable power mix by 2030.

Also alarming to some who’ve been watching the Renewable City Motion is a curiously worded reference in administration’s report regarding how the city “looks forward to the participation of the oil and gas sector in the Conference, to ensure the City can leverage any innovations the sector is pursuing.”

Or, as Mayor Michael Fougere put it in his address to council:

“The energy industry itself is also involved in innovation, also involved in sustainability, also involved in trying to lessen our carbon footprint. They will be present at this conference as well to speak to what is happening in the industry as well. Our economy is inextricably linked, whether you like it or not, to the energy industry — oil and gas. It will be for a number of years.”

According to Councillor Andrew Stevens, another of the motion’s original movers, this diverges somewhat from his original intent.

“At no point was it in my mind to have the oil and gas industry part of a renewable energy conversation or conference. We have enough of that,” says Stevens. “If they want to be a part of a conversation at another point about just transition or transition toward a different energy model and the impact on the economy, fine. This is not their conference. That was not the intention.”

Fougere, however, is adamant about their involvement.

“It’s pretty hard to have a conversation without the energy industry being involved because they too have a story to tell about the innovations they’re making to reduce their carbon footprint. They should not drive the agenda. They will not drive the agenda. This was mentioned in the report and it was approved by council. So I think we shouldn’t set our hair on fire because we have someone from the oil and gas industry who may have something to say about what they’re doing to respect the environment,” says Fougere.

Of course, all this is happening against a daily backdrop of alarming climate news. You wouldn’t know it by stepping outside in Saskatchewan, but globally, this July was the hottest month ever recorded. As the summer heatwave swept across Europe, the record breaking temperatures killed people. Wildfires in the Arctic Circle gave off plumes of smoke larger than the European Union.

Greenland lost 197 billion tons of ice to July 2019.

And as for that “we have 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate change” meme from last year? Yeah, looks like we have more like 18 months. Turns out, every scenario laid out in 2018’s sobering IPCC report, pegs the end of 2020 as the point where global CO2 emissions have to peak if we’re to have a hope of keeping warming below 1.5°C.

And there isn’t a climate plan on the planet strong enough to hit that target.

But, what about Regina? How will our halting actions on the Renewable City Motion contribute to the global effort to avert climate catastrophe?

“I’m not even sure where to begin on that,” says Mayor Fougere. “I will say that we will do our part with this conference. But it will not be a panacea.

“This council has taken the motion brought forward very seriously,” says Fougere. “There are many other players in the world that have a lot more say and control over climate change than the City of Regina. The federal government’s initiatives, the province’s initiatives — I’m not going to judge any of those, but they’re aware that that question must be asked. We can do our part as a municipality but our actual impact on the environment as the City of Regina, as a geographic area, is minuscule compared to the problems we face worldwide on climate change.

“We have to be realistic as to what the role of the city can be in this. But our mind is in the right place. Everyone is extremely concerned about protecting the environment,” he says.

Question is, will that concern translate into a Renewable City Framework that proposes concrete action this time?

Because we’ve run out of kicks at the can.

Be A Part Of Regina’s Climate Conversation!

Hey everybody! The City of Regina will host an Energy And Sustainability Conference in May 2020. The exact date has yet to be set. The organizing committee is run by Councillors Mike O’Donnell and Joel Murray. If you want to be involved, those are the guys you want to e-mail.