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Whistler falls short on carbon neutrality goal

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) must concede defeat to the Village of Harrison Hot Springs in its drive to become B.C.'s first carbon neutral community.

That's according to B.C.'s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, for whom a spokeswoman said last week that the Village is the only one that has yet achieved carbon neutrality - a state in which a local government is offsetting as much carbon as it's emitting. Whistler committed to being B.C.'s first back in 2009.

Ted Battiston, strategic energy and emissions manager for the RMOW, said in an e-mailed response that the municipality still intends to achieve its commitment of carbon neutrality, but that it delayed its purchase of offsets for a number of reasons.

"As one of the first communities that intends to execute on its carbon neutral commitment, we wanted to explore the feasibility of potential local (Whistler-based) 'offset credit' projects that we might be able to leverage to meet our neutrality commitment," he said.

"To this end, we still believe that the recently released Forest Carbon Offset Protocol (FCOP) may provide an opportunity to manage the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF) in a manner that could provide locally-sourced third party verified carbon offsets.

"This is something that the CCF is working towards and we wanted to allow sufficient time to explore this possibility."

Councillor Ralph Forsyth was disappointed with the community's placing but congratulated Harrison Hot Springs on its achievement.

"It's disappointing, but I suppose it's a good target to have," he said. "Good for Harrison."

Whistler, the ministry spokeswoman said, is close to carbon neutrality but it's nevertheless falling short of the ambitious goal that it set for itself in 2009. That commitment came two years after the province announced the Climate Action Charter, a contract by several municipalities to become carbon neutral in their operations by 2012. Whistler was one of its earliest signatories.

In 2009, the resort municipality announced its Carbon Neutral Operations Plan, which outlined the steps by which it would achieve its commitment to carbon neutrality under the Climate Action Charter. Instead of meeting the 2012 deadline, it would seek to reach carbon neutrality in its operations by 2010.

To get there, the resort municipality would measure the greenhouse gases that come from operations such as buildings and fleet vehicles then bring those emissions to net zero.

It would achieve "net zero" in two ways: by reducing emissions where possible and by purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the remaining greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the plan, the resort municipality would purchase 50 per cent of its offsets through a provider such as Pacific Carbon Trust, a Crown corporation that sells offsets by taking money from an entity that wants to reduce its emissions and put it towards energy efficiency initiatives; such as a hybrid heating system at Whistler's Pan Pacific Mountainside hotel, or cement plant fuel switching at a Lafarge facility in Richmond.

Whistler projected to spend $49,725 towards carbon offsets in 2010; $48,068 for emissions in 2011 and $46,410 for emissions in 2012, with spending dropping to $38,675 by 2015. Actual spending was to commence in the first quarter of 2011.

The cost to neutralize the municipality's emissions in 2010 will actually be $58,050... a difference of $8,325. This comes as Whistler overshot its emission projection for 2010, which was initially set at 1,989 tonnes of CO2 but is actually 2,322 tonnes of CO2.

Forsyth is critical of buying offsets in order to make up for a municipality's emissions.

"I think some of the efforts are worthwhile, but spending our way out of the problem is not the best use of taxpayer money," he said. "It goes to this Pacific Carbon Trust or whatever and I'm just not sure. That's not something people can see or smell or taste or eat, so I don't think people see the benefits of that."

The revelation comes as the province is easing the requirement for Climate Action Charter signatories to reach carbon neutrality by 2012.

The Green Communities Committee, a joint initiative between the province at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities that assists local governments in reach their goals under the Charter, is supporting a "making progress towards" approach that will allow local governments that aren't yet close to reaching carbon neutrality to "build capacity and resources" to achieve their goals under the Charter.

This approach, the spokeswoman said, will allow communities to acknowledge the steps they're taking in the short term and continue working towards carbon neutrality.

This article first appeared in Whistler's Pique Newsmagazine.

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