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It's a question of balance ... and here are the questions

I’ve been participating in Sustainable Peterborough Climate Change Action Plan discussions as a member of the economic and business subcommittee. Throughout the discussions the challenge has become more evident: how do we strike a balance between the current reality and the desired outcome of the future?  

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has spent the past year looking at our natural resources industry through the lens of Why Resources Matter. An infographic released last summer shows natural resources-based industries contributed almost 17% of Canada’s GDP, 14% of Canada’s jobs and resource-based manufacturing represented 46.2% of Canada’s total manufacturing output.  Those numbers show our economy is quite entrenched in this sector and one of the reasons why climate change action plans like the one currently underway for Peterborough and surrounding communities are so important.  We have to figure out how to sustain our economy through a balanced approach to our natural resources.  Take for example the economic impact from a drop in oil prices. How do we push the conversation beyond fear of, for example, nuclear, oil, pipelines, and resource extraction to one of innovation, leadership, and opportunity? 

We have to have a plan and way forward that is sustainable for generations.  The goal of the Climate Change Action Plan is to reduce Peterborough’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  These targets are important because it will foster innovation at all levels of our community.  No one sector, group or level of government can accomplish this goal in isolation. We all have a responsibility.  But do we legislate?  Incentivize?

We also face the challenge of current realities. In the next 25 years the population of the GTHA and the Outer Ring is expected to be around 13.5 million people.  For perspective that’s just slightly below the current population of the entire province (13.8 million approx July 2015).  How will they move around, where will they live, how will we heat their homes, how prepared are our sewage treatment plants? How do we as a province and a municipality prepare?  

The province of Ontario is currently reexamining the legislation around the blue box program.  The current theory is to put the financial responsibility of the program on the producers of materials, with the desired outcome to encourage producers to use more recyclable materials and plan for those products that cannot be. However, I don’t think we can underestimate the responsibility of the consumer as well.  The producer can use a highly recyclable material, but how do we reconcile the issue if the consumer isn’t on board?   

The province announced in the 2016 budget they will be moving toward a Cap and Trade system that is expected to generate $1.9 billion in revenue for the government starting in 2017.  They have also committed to using those revenues to support initiatives to cut GHGs including public transit, clean technology, and making homes and businesses more energy efficient.  Will this sort of incentive legislation work in the business community?  What measures or incentives are there for homeowners?  

In the Peterborough area we are seeing more bike lanes on our streets and more land has been purchased by the City to complete the TransCanada trail.  We are definitely a city and county in tune with our natural environment.  This goes for residents and businesses.   And with a research park around the clean tech sector about spring up at Trent University, it’s quite possible to believe that future companies in this space will help us answer some of the questions above.  However, they need the time, the opportunity, the environment and the support to grow.   The Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and GreenUp have the Green Business Peterborough program.  It encourages businesses to formulate goals and a plan of action that will help move them down the path to environmental sustainability.  Check out the program at greenbusinesspeterborough.ca

Canada’s economy is heavily invested in natural resources from water, to forests to minerals to oil and natural gas.  Moving forward from where we are today is going to take strategy, cooperation and balance.