City of Edmonton looks to add carbon accounting to budget decisions

At Edmonton city hall on Monday, the executive committee heard from 20 speakers, each of whom was overwhelmingly in support of the proposed community energy transition strategy.

The new policy is aimed at reducing Edmonton’s greenhouse gas emissions while spurring economic growth.

One of its key features is carbon accounting.

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“We would be incorporating a carbon lens — a carbon budget — into our decision-making process,” explained the city’s director of environmental strategies, Mark Brostrom.

It means before councillors decide to make investments in a new road or building, they will not only see a dollar figure, but also a carbon cost.

“We’d be looking at the amount of energy that’s required to build that infrastructure,” Brostrom said.

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“Probably the most challenging piece is to then look over the life of that infrastructure and determine the carbon impacts on the community of that.”

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City of Edmonton looks to add carbon accounting to budget decisions

That would include things like vehicle emissions on roads and utility bills for buildings.

For the last five years, Edmonton’s community leagues have been having those discussions with residents and many have chosen to invest in renewable energy.

“Twenty-three leagues have solar on their hall, which I think gives that signal to the community and Edmontonians that this is something that’s possible and is something that’s a viable investment,” executive director Laura Cunningham-Shpeley said.

She noted the funding to pay for the solar panels is community generated and requires a lot of support, which leagues are getting.

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“This is money the leagues will raise on their own, from different grants or fundraising, so they have to engage the neighbourhood, they have to engage the membership in these costs, especially when they’re as big as they are.”

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Mayor Don Iveson said he thinks Edmonton can be a leader in the space.

“We need to live within all of our means, not just financially but also ecologically, but also with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Some Scandanavian countries, like Sweden, are already working with carbon budgets but the concept is new in North America.

“It’s a new way of thinking about things, so it is still a work in progress, but I do think it is going to help us understand very clearly how to live within the constraints of getting emissions to zero by 2050,” Iveson said.

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He believes the energy transition strategy will promote ingenuity and create jobs.

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The carbon budget will provide parameters for other sustainable initiatives, helping calculate how much carbon is going into the atmosphere and from what sources.

“Making sure that we’re not just saying what we’re going to do, but also measure that, and be accountable to that,” Brostrom said.

If approved by city council, carbon emissions would be included in discussions around the 2023 budget.

“Certainly it places the question front and centre for candidates running in this fall’s election,” Iveson said, “whether they take these issues seriously, whether they think we need to accelerate implementation and whether they see the same economic potential here that I do.”

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