Table discussion interpreted by Sonia Pacin

Priority: Put sustainability and community well-being at the core of all land use decision-making, planning and prioritizing in Ottawa. That means putting greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change resilience measures front and centre at each step in the development and implementation of the Official Plan. In general, the City should focus its efforts on reforming the systems that drive the climate crisis rather than simply conforming to business as usual. It can do so by promoting sustainable circular economies and a new green growth paradigm that prioritizes ecological sustainability, fosters community belongingness, and motivates people to seek consensus on real, transformative change across all levels of government, sectors of the economy, communities and individuals.

Policy Actions:

  • Apply a climate lens to the Official Plan and to all municipal infrastructure and land development projects. The main goal of a climate lens is to provide meaningful insight into the climate impacts of individual projects and encourage improved choices consistent with the City’s climate emergency objectives. By systematically evaluating each facet of the Official Plan and its impact on GHG emissions and/or resilience to the impacts of a changing climate, the City will become increasingly familiar with key considerations, risks and mitigation strategies, which will facilitate better decision making in all areas of City involvement and across all sectors.
  • Enforce GHG accounting for all City infrastructure and activities and apply mandatory mitigation measures. The GHGs associated with all activities and projects led by the City, including those related to third parties (procurement/ consultants/ contractors/ developers) need to be recorded, reported and mitigated. GHGs should be quantified, monitored and verified according to international standards, and optimally reported against a set of pre-established GHG targets or objectives. Mandatory mitigation measures i.e. options to decrease GHGs associated with a project/activity/development should be presented with all project/ development applications to the City. The City and all related businesses should be held accountable for their climate change impacts, and given a responsibility to mitigate impacts as much as possible.
  • Improve transparency and communication in all City decision-making, especially when granting approvals for land-development projects impacting local communities. Community members have the right to know “who, when, why, how” when it comes to land development in their immediate areas. Communities should understand the resulting consequences or benefits and have the chance to voice their opinions on the potential local impacts. Communities are currently “left in the dark” as to how or why certain land development or infrastructure projects have received approvals, especially when local effects have not been considered and are viewed as being negative to the community. In order to improve the well-being of our City, improved transparency and communication to the residents is essential. All project and land development applications, including all the steps of the review process and all reasons for approvals or rejections should be adequately recorded and provided to communities and individuals upon request.
  • Overcome the current silo mentality and organizational framework and increase connectivity between City departments. A silo mentality reduces the efficiency of operations and decreases productivity. Especially when considering cross-cutting priorities and initiatives such as sustainability or the current climate change emergency, City departments need to be communicating amongst themselves, sharing information and working towards the same vision and goal – a City based on sustainability, well-being and resilience in the face of climate change. The City should develop a unified vision, foster horizontal collaboration and implement a cross-departmental training/education system.
  • Implement changes to “decentralize” planning and development sectors of the municipal government and increase local community involvement in land-use decision making. The assessment of applications for the development of land, including zoning, variances, in-fills and tree by-laws, should not be left to the sole discretion of a handful of City Officials (staff and Council) which may have a vested interest in the final outcome of the decision. The City of Ottawa should increase collaboration with residents and delegate decision-making to communities which would increase local input and value. Neighbourhood planning tables, such as those currently in operation in Toronto, Ontario, would be a valuable asset to implement in Ottawa and would allow residents, community agencies, local businesses and City staff to work together and help identify local priorities, plan solutions and create partnerships for a stronger neighbourhood.
  • Appoint a Climate Change Commissioner who would serve as a “watchdog” and ensure the City is meeting its climate change objectives. As a newly created position, the Commissioner could be selected via recommendation by City Councillors and voted on by Council and related advisory committees such as the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee. The role of this new “watchdog” would include ensuring all departments are implementing a climate lens, completing necessary GHG accounting and meeting GHG emission targets in order to comply with all measures as required under the climate change emergency as declared by the City.

Immediate Steps:

The City should begin by refining their climate lens and applying a GHG budget to the Official Plan as soon as possible. The City can obtain help from other levels of government which have already implemented a climate lens and/or other organizations, such as the Environmental Studies Association of Canada,which have a strong knowledge base of GHG accounting and climate change experience. 

To increase collaboration with the various communities of Ottawa, the City could also begin with increasing the role of the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee and the Land-use Planning Committee. The Land use planning committee could be increased in size in order to include more representatives of the various rural and urban communities of Ottawa. 

Transparency could also be increased immediately with all City land-development and land-use change applications and approvals being provided upon request of interested residents or organizations. 

The City could also encourage (through more outreach and social media) a more sustainable mindset of individual residents by increasing the education and awareness of the long-term impacts of our actions on the environment and climate change and providing simple solutions which can be implemented by all households.

As Albert Einstein once said:

“The World we have created is a product of our thinking. If we want to change the world, we have to change our thinking”