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QUEST Canada - Advancing Community Capacity in the Quest for Net-Zero

QUEST Canada is a national non-profit, championing energy innovation and climate change mitigation to accelerate the net-zero transition at the community level. A central factor driving QUEST Canada’s initiatives is the power that Canada’s communities hold in the climate change arena.

We wanted to learn more about QUEST Canada’s initiatives and how climate adaptation and mitigation can go hand in hand in rural communities. We sat down with Eric Timmins, Senior Lead of Projects, at QUEST Canada, and talked about the opportunities available for smaller rural communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change while playing their role in the quest for net-zero.

So, in Eric’s eyes, what does QUEST Canada do for Canadian communities?

“QUEST Canada is a nonprofit and non-government organization that is all about local-level energy systems. We work with a number of communities all across Canada—from the policy side to the governance and implementation side. We work with communities on their journey to net-zero, helping them become more sustainable and smarter with their own energy.”

Terminology 101: Net-zero? Climate mitigation? Climate adaptation?

There are a lot of buzz words in the climate change sphere, so let’s start with ‘net-zero.’ Canada’s federal government aims for net-zero emissions by 2050, by either lowering national carbon emissions, or counter-acting enough emissions to achieve a net-zero position. For most small-town communities this goal may seem completely out of scope and a potentially daunting commitment, so we talked to Eric about what this could look like for the average town in Canada. Incorporating climate-mitigation strategies into our everyday policies and lifestyles is one way we can get closer to achieving net-zero.

Mitigation vs. Adaptation

Climate mitigation involves strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions like integrating renewable energy sources into local grids, planting trees for increased carbon sequestration, and reducing energy consumption overall. While net-zero may be in reach, the impacts of climate change are already occurring, and Alberta’s communities can expect changes that we need to prepare for. This is where climate adaptation comes into play. Through adaptation, we can make both small and large changes to equip our communities for the challenges to come.

Spotting the co-benefits: the sometimes hidden bonuses of adaptation and mitigation

Climate adaptation and mitigation plans have their more obvious benefits: increased resilience to the impacts brought on by extreme weather events and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. There are hidden positive outcomes as well, and these are referred to as ‘co-benefits.’ Eric explains co-benefits are felt ‘more directly’ in the community, and include cleaner air, more moderate temperatures, and lower insurance premiums.

Additionally, community investment into naturalization projects for more parks and urban farms helps improve a community’s culture and overall sense of well-being.

The important first step for communities: know what you're up against and conduct a climate hazard and risk assessment

“Having a climate hazard and risk assessment done will show the community what their primary concerns are with regards to extreme weather events. And also, what community infrastructure and assets are the ones that are most at risk—that's really the first thing you can do because it'll create a good, strong foundation for any action you take in the future.”

Climate hazard and risk assessments are an important first step communities can take to gauge vulnerability and understand weak points in relation to mitigation and/or adaptation. Referencing climate projections for local community regions, through resources like the Climate Atlas, can help policy-makers better understand which weather changes and extreme events may impact their region.

What support is available for communities wanting to conduct a climate hazard and risk assessment?

  • QUEST Canada’s Resilience and Energy Mapping Workshops

The workshops QUEST Canada provides for communities are “a core component of what the organization does and are foundational to their community focused approach. They enable key stakeholders in the community, including elected officials and municipal staff, to contribute to the work of developing community climate adaptation, energy and emissions plans.”

The visual aspect of the Energy Mapping Workshop provides participants with a macro-level view of their community and it's easier to see how all the different systems within the community interact.

  • Accessing Climate Data

An exciting amount of climate data has recently become available for public access. These tools include Climate Atlas Canada and Climate Data. “These are both portals that provide communities with free open access data they can use for their own purposes that really shows them what their projections look like… They don’t have to pay consultants to do it. There are also guides on how to interpret the data and how to use the data properly.”

  • Funding Streams

There has also been incredible growth in funding available for climate adaptation and mitigation work in Canada. A great example is the climate resilience program through the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre here in Alberta that provides funding for communities for this exact work - the building of climate adaptation plans as well as working towards implementing a number of actions.

What role do rural communities play in achieving net-zero: suggested strategies

“Rural communities, remote communities and smaller communities are basically the front lines for a lot of this [adaptation work] as they are the ones often most at risk. They tend to have less redundant energy systems and civil infrastructure, and in the event of extreme weather events they can see longer delays in response times regarding repairs or emergency response.
Communities hold a lot of power. The majority of energy used in Canada—upwards of 60%—is at the community level, be it residential, commercial, industrial, or for transportation. And in connection with that, it's where the majority of emissions are generated, over half in Canada.”

Each of the strategies Eric discussed are pretty low to minimal cost for communities, and are well within a community’s level of control. He explains, “These are all actions where once they start adding up, they can really put the community on a trajectory towards being net-zero.”

Smaller projects are a great way to start and show leadership within a community

Eric suggests that small projects model climate leadership and form a basis for inspiration in other areas of the community. “We see things like having a flagship community building, such as an arena, community centre, or town hall, be the focus of high energy performance standards or local microgeneration like solar PV.” Through smaller projects like these, towns can set an example and model the standards they desire among their residents. “These are all low-cost options that communities can pursue to inspire change.”

Other options that may motivate behavioural changes include:

  • implementing anti-idling bylaws

  • educational awareness campaigns on active transportation and home energy efficiency

  • installing solar panels on smaller community buildings or assets as a demonstration

Use zoning to attract green energy investment and business

There are a number of ways for municipalities and communities to signal to the market that they are ready to pursue more change and are open for green energy business. “We’ve seen a good example with some communities developing something called a green zoning bylaw where the municipality has zoned specific areas throughout their community specifically for the development of renewable energy projects.

It signals to the marketplace—to private renewable developers or investors—that this community is ready for [green energy] development. It reduces red tape and makes it easier for them to develop there.”

Learn about the green zoning of Saint John in the City of Saint John Community GHG and Energy Action Plan.

Generate capacity by collaborating with other communities

Small towns may find they have limited capacity for climate adaptation initiatives when working alone, but can multiply their efforts through collaboration with neighbouring communities. From shared service agreements to regional action plans, community collaboration is an essential aspect of climate adaptation and a key element of the work of both Resilient Rurals and QUEST Canada.

“Having connections and partnerships allows for things like the pooling of resources, the open sharing of knowledge, the exchange of information, and on the other side, the exchange of lessons learned—“we tried that and it didn't work”—it can help prevent allocating resource scenarios that maybe aren't as effective. It gives all of the partnering communities or partnering stakeholders more resources and more information to everyone trying to reach their goals.”

Small-town communities have frequently proven their resilience against droughts and extreme weather events in the past, and there is no reason not to collaborate to face the next great challenge of climate change. Some may suggest net-zero pursuits are out of a small prairie community’s grasp, but organizations like QUEST Canada are showing that a host of services, data, funding and networking opportunities are available to support rural communities. The benefits of installing green policies and preparing for climate change today far out-weigh the costs of inaction.

Introducing Rural Showcase...

A dynamic network of resilience leaders are working in and among rural communities across Canada. Resilient Rurals' Rural Showcase highlights the prominent champions channelling their expertise and passion to empower rural communities, advance climate adaptation and enhance the local environment.

Connect with local leaders, hear their stories and learn from their expertise.

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