January 5, 2020
The Climate Leadership Team massaged an engineering report to justify policy directions the City had already taken.
AN ENGINEERING COMPANY’S REPORT obtained from the City of Victoria through an FOI request shows that the City cheated on its first attempt to plot a critical path to lower territorial greenhouse gas emissions. The way in which the report’s findings were changed suggests that the City was intent on manufacturing information for its Climate Leadership Plan that would provide support for policy directions it was already pursuing, or wanted to pursue.
Stantec Engineering was hired by the City to assess the municipality’s emissions in 2017. The City published its Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) in 2018 (see link at end of story).
Focus reviewed the CLP in mid-2019. While the 66-page report is full of high-level visions and soft goals, the only hard information about emissions, and how those might be reduced, were numbers that appeared in percentage breakdowns of the sources of emissions, and in a wedge graph titled “Pathways to 2050 GHG Emissions Reductions.” These were attributed to a “GPC Compliant Inventory, 2017.” Focus requested the inventory and the City released Stantec’s report to us in late October. There are several interesting differences between the information in the City’s Climate Leadership Plan and Stantec’s report.
Stantec estimated GHG emissions that occurred within the municipality’s boundaries in 2017 were 465,482 tonnes. It classified those emissions by categories that were in accordance with the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions Basic+ (see link at end of story). But the City’s CLP used “387,694” tonnes and “370,000” tonnes on different pages, thereby reducing at least 77,788 tonnes of emissions with six taps on a keyboard.
If the emissions Stantec estimated had been used, the paper pathway the City had plotted for reducing those emissions by 2050 would have missed its target by a wide margin.
A more telling difference between Stantec’s and the City’s account of emissions is the way in which the categories used by Stantec were changed by the City. The GPC protocol has established categories of territorial emissions that allow comparison with other jurisdictions and provide a method for consistently measuring progress from year to year. Adhering to the GPC categories creates transparency, which in turn allows accountability.
Adhering to the GPC Basic+ protocol is also a requirement for any city that wants to be listed on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s A-List, or is a signatory to the Compact of Mayors. Because of the way the City altered Stantec’s reported emissions, the CLPdoesn’t meet the requirements of either of those projects. Neither is it GPC compliant. Perhaps the City ought to take the "Leadership" claim out of its climate action plan.
The City eliminated three of the seven categories for which Stantec had found significant emissions (see pie charts above). That included the category “Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU),” which had the highest rate of growth in Victoria—66 percent over the last 10 years. The City also eliminated the GPC categories “Transboundary Transportation” and “Off-Road Transportation,” which accounted for, combined, 35 percent of all territorial emissions. Lastly, the City moved multi-unit residential buildings out of the GPC category “Residential Buildings” and lumped it in with the GPC category “Commercial & Institutional Buildings and Facilities.”
In the City’s version of Stantec’s report, single-family homes have suddenly become greater emitters than Stantec had found for single-family and multi-family buildings combined. Perhaps to stymie any efforts at holding the City accountable (like this story), it then moved multi-family residential buildings in with “industrial” and “commercial, institutional” buildings and found that this category now had emissions of 124,062 tonnes, only slightly higher than the 123,370 tonnes Stantec had attributed to just commercial and institutional buildings in its assessment. Trying to figure out the City’s rationale for doing that produces a sensation in my brain that I imagine is something like having a mini-stroke.
In a similarly puzzling shift, the City made a separate category for single-family homes and held it responsible for a bigger percentage of emissions than Stantec had found for multi-family and single-family residential housing combined.
It may be entirely coincidental, but there is a move afoot at City Hall, led by Mayor Lisa Helps, to eliminate single-family zoning throughout the City of Victoria. If it comes to that, the mayor and her supporters will be able to point to the Climate Leadership Planand say, “Look, our GPC Compliant Inventory shows this will address a big source of emissions.”
Another of City Hall’s controversial directions might be at the heart of the difference between Stantec’s findings and the City’s spin of Stantec’s findings regarding transportation emissions.
Stantec found that “On Road Transport” accounted for nine percent of total territorial emissions. Victoria’s version boosted that to 40 percent. This category is intended to measure emissions from cars, trucks and buses that don’t cross the City of Victoria’s boundaries. In other words, it’s not intended to include vehicles that make longer trips, too long for most people to make by walking or cycling. Emissions that result from longer trips are counted under “Transboundary Transportation,” a category the City eliminated.
In the City’s version of reality, cars, trucks and buses making short trips on its streets are the single biggest emissions problem by far. That version supports its choice to spend money and create community division in the hope of getting people to cycle instead of driving a car.
Stantec found that “Off-Road Transportation” (marine, aviation, other) accounted for 12.4 percent of emissions, even higher than on-road transportation. Yet the City’s climate-action brain trust deep-sixed these emissions altogether, perhaps influenced by the tourism lobby.
This is classic decision-based evidence-making.
In early 2019, City staff requested that council approve a $540,000 increase in spending related to further development of its climate initiatives. Those initiatives included expanding the size of the City’s public relations department.
After publication addendum: The City did not respond to questions presented to it about its Climate Leadership Plan and the numbers it contained.
David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.