New climate change co-ordinator focused on action, seeks community input

Kim Neale is the new Central Manitoulin and Billings climate change co-ordinator.

KAGWONG – Kagawong resident Kim Neale has replaced Kristin Koetsier as climate change co-ordinator for Central Manitoulin and Billings Township and has enthusiastically immersed herself into her new role. Ms. Neale spent three years in project management and public policy development in the post-secondary sector after her 2006 graduation from environmental engineering at the University of Guelph followed by nearly a decade as an environmental underwriter where she worked frequently with Canadian municipalities. She brings with her an in-depth understanding of environmental risks for municipalities and a desire to focus on climate change risk, climate action and helping municipalities become more resilient.

She praised Ms. Koetsier for the work she had completed, including collecting data and compiling greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories for Central Manitoulin and Billings Township. The inventories were submitted to the auditor for Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and both have been approved. “We received notice from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) that we’ve been granted Milestone One.” 

There are five milestones in the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program the communities are participating in. Ms. Neale noted the PCP protocol is an international standard. “We initially received funding in the PCP program and we can be confident that our methodology that we’re putting in place will meet those international standards,” she said. ICLEI ensures the protocol is followed and that the resulting inventory will be useful to the communities moving forward.

“We have a long way to go but we are working on milestone number two which is setting targets. With the Climate Action Committees we are looking at what are the targets we want to work on and simultaneously we are looking at how we want to achieve those targets. This will require a tremendous amount of community engagement and feedback.”

Central Manitoulin committee meetings will be held on the last Wednesday of every month up until the end of the program in early 2021. Committees in Billings Township have been on hold since Billings declared an emergency due to COVID-19.

Waste management was initially included on the community side of the inventories. Corporate emissions are related to things the municipality owns and is directly responsible for, such as municipal buildings and vehicles, while community emissions relate to things within the municipal boundaries that are not directly owned by the municipality such as businesses, private residences and vehicular traffic. During the audit it was recommended that waste management was moved to the corporate section. “The landfill receives community garbage but the municipality is responsible for it’s management and maintenance,” explained Ms. Neale, “but it really is a community piece as well so that’s an area where major collaboration will be required.”

There will be adjustments to the GHG inventories based on that feedback and it will adjust overall numbers “pretty significantly,” she said. Right now, emissions are calculated on what was put into the landfill in the baseline year of 2008 and how many emissions that waste would give off during the rest of its life in the landfill. What the inventory did not consider, and what was included in the auditor’s feedback, was the amount of waste already in the landfill at that time and the emissions that waste was giving off. There are also closed landfills that are emitting GHGs. 

“It actually shifts our GHG emissions up a bit if we accurately depict and demonstrate the emissions of our closed landfills,” she said. She hopes the potential plans that result will be recognized with community support and the understanding that the amount of garbage we put into our landfills directly correlates to how much we consume. “We have to look at whether we need to purchase something with that amount of plastic that will eventually go into our landfill and this is certainly a consideration for people in Billings because that landfill doesn’t have much life left in it.”

She’s not sure there would be widespread community support for an additional landfill site on the Island but notes that no additional site means increased costs for shipping our waste off Island. Not only will the cost increase, but we are still responsible for the GHG emissions that come from shipping our garbage.

When the government starts limiting GHG, she asks ‘would Islanders rather be in charge of their waste stream or be subject to market shifts?’ “If you are responsible for it on the Island you can put public policy in place that will help reduce the waste stream. You can look at alternatives.” 

One thing Ms. Neale has noticed is that residents in Central Manitoulin and Billings are not happy that third party recyclers are no longer accepting glass and that glass must go into landfills. “That’s the kind of private sector market shift that we’re going to continue to be subject to unless we take leadership of our own waste.”

There is opportunity to crush glass into sand that can be used as landfill cover but the cost of machinery is high, the cost of training is high and the risk of people getting injured from broken glass is high. That’s what most people don’t realize, that the safety issue is one of the main reasons glass was removed from recycling services; GFW didn’t have a solution within their own company to manage that, she said.

She predicts that plastic will be the next item refused by recyclers, meaning it too will have to go into our landfills. She suggests that we need to understand our garbage more, to be better educated about what happens with it and what alternatives are possible. Things like sorting your recycling properly is going to help maintain a long-term relationship with recyclers and will help us control the costs of our recycling, she said. At the same time, we need to look at what materials and how much is being recycled. “Do we really need to drink so much pop,” she asks, “or can we buy a Sodastream, for example? Not only is that a good option for waste management it’s also good for our wallets and our health.”

Moving away from recycling, Ms. Neale would like the Climate Action Plan to consider incentives for builders to build more sustainable buildings, preferably wood buildings that act as carbon sinks. She would like to see incentives for any new Island businesses that demonstrate environmental or emissions reduction value propositions and potential job creation. “I think our major goal in a climate action plan would be to create more green jobs on this Island and to figure out how municipalities can facilitate that,” she said. 

She’s not making proposals, though, just “putting ideas on the table.” The fall engagement schedule will focus on reaching out to community members. “There’s only so much organizational change we can do. The community needs to be heavily involved in driving our own economic changes,” she said. “We need community support and community ideas. Maybe we can remediate one of our old landfills and turn it into a recycling facility. Maybe we could go even further and capture the emissions from the process and turn it into energy to run the process. Maybe we can remediate one of our old landfills but this time only accept items that have low emissions or can decompose more quickly. Maybe the community could support lobbying the recycler for better solutions or maybe we could look at something ourselves that is more sustainable. There are lots of options.”

PCP is a great program, she said, with a goal to create more long lasting change and to reduce emissions in a sustainable way. One benefit of participating in the PCP program is the ability to collaborate and share solutions with other members. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Ms. Neale. “We’re hoping to launch a tool that will help individuals track their personal carbon footprint. The tool was created by a man developing a plan for the Georgian Bay Biosphere and is shareable. There could be a contest with prizes, she suggested, to see how many people start using the tool. There are many fun options that could be accessed for climate change action.”

At the same time community engagement sessions and discussions are underway, municipalities will be having internal debates on what kinds of plans to put forward for corporate emissions. The resulting climate action plan will include options for both community and corporation targets. The draft plans should be available for public feedback sometime in the fall. Both councils will take feedback into consideration before final plans are approved.