By Steve Hubrecht
The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) is creating an official climate action plan for its rural areas, including Area F and Area G here in the Columbia Valley. The move is being greeted with guarded optimism by local advocates.
The plan is meant to bolster climate resilience and also to reduce carbon emissions associated with climate change.
It will set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the regional district’s corporate operations, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the many unincorporated communities in rural areas (in the Columbia Valley these include Windermere, Fairmont Hot Springs, the subdivisions on the east side of Lake Windermere and the west side of Columbia Lake, Panorama Mountain Resort, Wilmer, Edgewater, Brisco, Spillimacheen and others).
The plan will also guide how the RDEK should spend its Local Government Climate Action Program funds.
Columbia Valley resident Tracy Flynn has advocated for better environmental planning at Invermere council and at the regional district for many years. She’s happy about the plan, but hopes it results in actual meaningful change.
“The RDEK has been doing some great work around reducing emissions from transportation, housing and waste, but they could be doing more. We all could be,” said Flynn. “We need to be working together — government and non-governmental organizations — and moving at an urgent pace.”
Flynn said developing a plan “is an encouraging start, but I hope we don’t just end up with another plan that ends up on the shelf. I welcome the chance to be involved in the process and am cautiously hopeful that there will be impactful outcomes.”
Representatives from regional environmental group Wildsight hold similar opinions.
Wildsight conservation coordinator Randal McNair attended an initial RDEK meeting about the plan several weeks ago. McNair explained that it was very much a preliminary, exploratory meeting, but “it’s still a good thing that it’s happening . . . there was some good discussion. It’s a foundation to build on.”
The plan is clearly needed, said McNair, pointing out that East Kootenay residents have seen the impacts of climate change firsthand. “Land use patterns need to change in the RDEK,” he said.
As an example, McNair pointed to the RDEK’s own Flood Hazard Study, which found that 36 per cent of the total assessed value of building improvements in the RDEK (representing $2.4 billion of building infrastructure) occurred on parcels within or intersecting flood hazard areas.
Obviously those buildings in flood hazard areas are going to remain where they are now, but a climate action plan — had one been in place — could have pointed out the risk associated with building in those spots in the first place and perhaps could have pointed would-be builders to better locations, explained McNair. “Going forward, that’s something a (climate action) plan can help us be aware of.”
He also emphasized that there are multiple important ecosystems in the East Kootenay, and that effects of climate change on biodiversity need to be considered. “We keep calling this the new normal, but really this is the tip of the iceberg,” said McNair, adding that climate change will only become more accelerated, and its effect more pronounced in the not-so-distant future.
Just like Flynn, McNair is cautious in his enthusiasm. “There is certainly a lot of work to do and at the end of the day there must be action,” he said, adding a plan that isn’t implemented isn’t really useful, and that “the RDEK does not necessarily always have a great track record of following existing plans.”
One thing that struck McNair about the initial meeting was the absence of representatives from East Kootenay industry. For instance, he explained there was no representative from Teck Resources Ltd., which he noted is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emission in all of B.C. McNair emphasized his comment was not intended as pointed criticism of Teck, but rather that if the plan is to succeed “representation needs to be broadened.”
McNair said he “hopes the plan comes with political will . . . we need strong voices and strong mechanisms (to implement the plan) . . . let’s be positive and hopeful, but firm.”
The RDEK is seeking public input on the plan through an online survey.
“Here in the RDEK we are experiencing things like more extreme wildfires, flooding, hotter summers, and poor air quality from wildfire smoke. These events have a direct impact on the health of residents, and we want to hear about the challenges people are facing around mental, emotional, and community health,” said RDEK planner Krista Gilbert. “We collectively have an opportunity to reduce our contribution to local greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and to become a more resilient region.”
The survey runs until Thursday, Nov. 30. It can be found online at engage.rdek.bc.ca/climate.