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Waterloo Region can join the battle against climate change

The Waterloo Record  by Jennifer Lynes and Mary Jane Patterson 4 December 2015

On Sunday, uptown Waterloo pulsed with energy as a diverse range of people gathered for the Global Climate March, one of many marches around the world leading up to COP21 in Paris. A desire for bold action to care for our shared planet was a common thread through the dancing, placards and speeches.

The energy comes from a sense of hope that now is the time when we start getting serious about addressing climate change, and begin preparing for it.

The march was an example that Waterloo Region is living the motto: “Think globally. Act locally.”

We are also living that motto by sending many of our community climate change leaders to Paris to participate, including Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, professors, students and workers with non-governmental organizations.

Yet for many of us, these talks are like a distant cousin: We know they exist, we might have seen a photo, but we haven’t really ever had any interaction with them. Likewise, climate change can be a difficult issue to relate to personally. The question that many of us struggle with is whether (and how) we, as individuals, can make a difference.

The fact is that climate change hits close to home. Literally.

Right now most homes are contributing to climate change. All of them can be a part of the solution.

According to the inventory undertaken for ClimateActionWR, our local climate action plan, 22 per cent of Waterloo Region’s greenhouse gas emissions are from electricity and fuel consumption in our homes. Reducing those emissions is crucial to slowing climate change. Together with our ClimateActionWR partners, we are committed to doing just that.

REEP Green Solutions was created as a local response to Canada’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Sixteen years and 14,000 homes later, we have made an impact, but much more work still needs to be done.

Equally critical to slowing climate change is to recognize that it is already happening and we must adapt to it. Extreme weather events are more frequent now, with higher winds and more intense rainfalls. This is our new reality.

So, over the past five years, REEP Green Solutions has been helping people determine if their home or business is prepared for the risk of flooding and wet basements as our climate changes.

In partnership with the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, our RAIN program helps property owners manage rain where it falls, so that it does not overwhelm our aging stormwater infrastructure or our backyards.

We are excited about building on this work with additional innovative solutions to be developed by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo announced on Monday.

Given the immensity of the challenges, we are heartened to see the progress at our senior levels of government. We have a Minister of the Environment and Climate Change in both the federal and provincial cabinets. And the province has announced plans to invest $325 million in 2015-16 through its Green Investment Fund to support a number of initiatives, including supporting efforts to upgrade older homes toward current energy efficiency standards.

In order for homes across Canada to be a part of the solution to climate change and to be prepared for our changing weather, we propose:

•That provinces work together with the federal government to provide a home energy retrofit incentive program that requires independent third-party professional energy audits. We recommend incentives rather than tax credits because they are more effective at motivating people.

•A federal or provincial Home Adaptation Assessment Program to educate and encourage homeowners to become extreme weather-prepared.

•Implementation of an integrated climate action plan that includes mitigation and adaptation.

Our hope is that these proposals will guide the federal and provincial governments as they move from setting targets to taking action.

These proposals not only address climate change. They will also stimulate the economy and help keep our housing stock viable into the future.

If you agree, please share your support with your provincial and federal representatives so that your home can be a part of the solution and is ready for the impact of severe weather.

Together, let’s be ambitious. By acting today, we can leave our children a community that is more resilient, caring, vibrant, and sustainable.

Jennifer Lynes is Chair of REEP Green Solutions and associate professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. Mary Jane Patterson is executive director of REEP Green Solutions.