Central Manitoulin, Billings share a new climate change co-ordinator

Kristin Koetsier

CENTRAL MANITOULIN – Ontario’s municipalities are required to have a Conservation and Demand Management Plan in place to reduce energy use in municipally owned buildings, but fulfilling that goal is easier said than done. 

Thanks to federal and provincially funded programs, Kristin Koetsier, a climate change co-ordinator for Billings Township and the Municipality of Central Manitoulin will be assisting those municipalities in creating the plan.

Ms. Koetsier is well set up to tackle the mountain of data that will have to be studied in order to create the conservation and demand management program, having completed a master’s program in Climate Change from the University of Waterloo. But perhaps even more importantly, this is a line of work that Ms. Koetsier is truly passionate about.

“I got into this work because I’m worried about climate change and over the course of studying toward a master’s degree, I became convinced that municipal level action has a really important role to play,” she said.

But when it comes to the tools of the trade, her studies have definitely filled her tool belt. “Everyone begins with three core courses in climate science, mitigation and adaptation,” she said. “Mitigation refers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking carbon out of the atmosphere to prevent climate change from getting hugely worse. Adaptation involves preparing for the impacts of a changing climate that we can’t avoid. The remaining courses are selected from electives that relate to the scientific, social and political aspects of climate change. The final requirement of the programme is a choice of either an internship or a major research paper. I completed an internship which involved talking with high school classes about climate change.”

In addition to her masters work at Waterloo, Ms. Koetsier studied environmental science at Western University.

Ms. Koetsier will be working closely with the Smart Green Communities, a membership-based program for municipalities and First Nations in Northeastern Ontario that “focuses on supporting communities as they set, meet and advance their energy goals and priorities.”

“Smart Green Communities provides technical and interpretive support for municipalities undertaking processes of energy and emissions planning,” she said. “They received funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to carry out their work, as did the municipalities I’m working for—this, along with funding from the provincial government’s Municipal Energy Plan program, allowed for my position to be created, along with a small budget for the project. Since we are in the region that Smart Green Communities serves, we can also access their technical support and benefit from their knowledge and experience.”

Ms. Koetsier noted that there have been a couple of impressive actions taken in both Billings and Central Manitoulin, including the retrofit of the Billings water treatment plant “which resulted in a massive reduction of that building’s emissions” and the new fire hall in Mindemoya, which was built to high energy efficiency standards. 

“Both communities really seem to care about this issue,” she said. “But staff is so busy they haven’t had time to devote attention to this issue regularly in the past. Hopefully my position can help fill that gap, since I’ll be focusing explicitly on energy and climate change.”

Central Manitoulin Councillor Algis Tribinevicius noted that he met Abhi Kantamneni, program manager for Smart Green Communities, at this year’s Manitoulin Trade Fair. 

“We talked about how their organization helps a community create a baseline emissions inventory and a forecast,” said Councillor Tribinevicius. “This is used to set emissions reductions targets and then develop local action plans to reduce emissions. Not only planning, but implementation of the local plans and monitoring of results also followed up.”

“Yes, this is the process outlined by FCM’s Partners for Climate Protection program, which has been successful in many Canadian communities,” replied Ms. Koetsier. “Smart Green Communities has much the same mandate that I do, except that they’re working on a regional scale, connecting with communities on the Island and the North Shore. We’re co-ordinating closely so we all learn from each other. Reducing our emissions is certainly a team effort.”

Ms. Koetsier said that she is about three months into her program’s 22-month funding and although facing a substantial amount of work, she is confident that the report deadline will be met. “I am just getting started really,” she said. “Right now I am looking at what the municipalities have done already. There will also be a lot of outreach—it is definitely a work in progress.”