Billings Township to proceed with climate change engagement surveys

Township of Billings

KAGAWONG – As part of their commitment to addressing climate change, Billings Township has accepted a proposal from Vancouver-based consultant Ethelo to proceed with climate change engagement surveys. Ethelo uses proprietary technology to help organizations with citizen participation leading to improved decision making and has worked with many other municipalities on climate change engagement. Surveys are developed specific to each municipality and gather residents’ experiences and knowledge as well as gauge community priorities.

Billings Climate Change Co-ordinator Kim Neale is drafting the content with assistance from the Climate Action Committee and Ethelo will format the survey and prepare summary reports. Ms. Neale prepared an initial draft for discussion at Billings Climate Action Committee’s December 9 meeting. Billings’ greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory report was used as a baseline. The inventory determined that residential and community transportation emissions were the two largest sources, accounting for 75 percent of community GHG emissions. In her presentation, Ms. Neale noted that per person emissions in Billings were approximately 25 tonnes C02 per year versus 19.7 tonnes CO2 average per Canadian.

“This gives our community a summary of a climate risks study that’s been completed so that we can be aware of the effects of climate change, how it impacts the municipality and what the people or residents of the municipality are expecting to see,” said Bryan Barker, committee chair and deputy mayor of Billings. “For example, we experienced high water levels this year and last year too; we had a little bit of flooding around the town hall and where our small craft basin is now. We’ve got to shore up the shoreline, increase the breakwall. Back in the summer of 2018 we were pretty much in drought conditions with very little rain in the spring and summer so we want to see the impacts of that.”

The survey will be divided into community emissions and corporate emissions, with shared spaces or natural assets, waste reduction, residential and transportation emissions under the community heading while encouraging climate action through public policy, funding of climate action in Billings and the township’s asset management plan will be considered under the corporate side. 

The survey will contain background information on each topic, actions that could be taken as well as potential impacts of each choice. Investing in more green spaces and tree planting, for example, can help reduce GHG emissions and can improve community health and well-being, said Ms. Neale. There is also a component of asset risk assessment built into the survey. Respondents will be asked whether they have been impacted by or are worried about flooding, drought, wildfires or extreme weather events; this anecdotal data will be combined with data from an online climate atlas to determine areas of concern. “We have a lack of data from weather stations,” said Ms. Neale. “We know that different parts of the Island are affected differently.”

A preamble in the tool will refer to some of the predictions and what we can expect in future weather, she said. “We are already experiencing additional spring thaw damage, and scientists are predicting a 60 percent increase in freezing rain events between now and 2030.”

It’s about getting people to understand that these are the types of risks we’re thinking about and “imagining some of the property damage that may result so we can start planning for mitigating that potential damage.”

An online carbon calculator will be available for residents to access a more detailed summary of their personal carbon footprint. Billings is entering into a data sharing agreement with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve (GBBR) in order to receive non-identifying GHG emission data for Billings residents who use GBBR’s carbon calculator. The calculator does require that users have detailed information on their energy usage (hydro or propane statements, for example) but will provide data that was missing from the GHG inventory. Ethelo is looking at providing a link to the carbon calculator within the survey on their platform.

The committee will meet twice in January to finalize survey questions. The survey must be reviewed by municipal staff and approved by council but it is hoped the survey will be launched by mid-to-late January with a final report received by Ethelo in late February. 

Ms. Neale’s position is shared by Billings Township and Central Manitoulin. Central Manitoulin has also engaged Ethelo for the development of a similar but unique climate engagement survey.