The climate change action plan and the municipal budget: interview with Michael Papadacos

For our fourth episode of the Budget Week podcast, Peterborough Currents called up Michael Papadacos, head of the City’s infrastructure management division to talk about how the City approaches climate change action.

The interview in this episode is an edited version of our conversation; to listen to the unedited version click here. Read an article rounding up climate change projects in the budget by clicking here.

Episode transcript

 0:06 Ayesha 

Hello you’re listening to Peterborough Currents. I’m Ayesha Barmania. This is episode four of our series on the 2021 municipal budget. And in this episode, I’m diving into how climate change gets addressed in City operations.

In December 2016, City Council voted to adopt the Greater Peterborough Climate Change Action Plan. It’s a plan that sets out the path towards achieving 2 overarching goals:

The first is called climate change mitigation. And this means reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 30%. That’s for both the community living and working here as well as for the Corporation of the City of Peterborough’s operations.

The second goal is called climate change adaptation, and that’s preparing the city for the impacts of climate change – like extreme weather events

Much of the responsibility for implementing this plan falls to the infrastructure management division, since adaptation and mitigation to climate change often means rethinking what our infrastructure is capable of handling. From moving car traffic through the city more quickly to reduce idling emissions … to preparing our stormwater system for more significant rainfall, that all falls under infrastructure.

So to learn more, I spoke with Michael Papadacos. He is the head of infrastructure management at the City. And he began by telling me about how the plan came out of a partnership program with other municipalities across the country.

Michael Papadacos 1:19 

So the climate change action plan is, you know, an overarching document that pulls together the first three milestones of the Partners for Climate Protection. So this is a program that’s managed and delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI Canada. The intention is to help Canadian municipalities take climate action. So it’s a five milestone process. And the first three milestones are what are contained within that climate change action plan. So it’s sort of a first creation of a baseline of the emissions inventory. Second, setting a mission reduction target. And then third, developing a local action plan to achieve that target.

2:07 Ayesha

What are the fourth and fifth milestones that are missing there?

2:10 Michael Papadacos 

Yeah, the fourth or fifth milestones are monitoring progress, and implementation and ongoing implementation.

2:20 Ayesha

How come? How come those aren’t included in the plan?

2:23 Michael Papadacos

Because the plan was developed in 2016. And so those milestones four and five are the kind of ongoing work. And we actually have a draft report that we’re in the final stages of updating, so we’re going to submit that report to FCM, and close out completion of that sort of program.

2:43 Ayesha

And okay, so can you make it a bit concrete? Like how do these goals and targets and the principles laid out in the plan? How do those get utilized in your division?

2:55 Michael Papadacos

Well, so the plan lays out a series of strategies for climate action. And it’s grouped into six themes, you know, homes, workplaces and schools, on the move, food, land and people. And then it also is broken down into sort of two sector views, right. So there’s the corporate sector. So that applies to the emissions that are created from the city of Peterborough and municipal operations and any properties that are owned by the city to deliver services for the community, and then the other part of it is the community sector. So that’s the emissions created by the residents and businesses of the city. 

And so those strategies have a series of sort of actions or recommendations that are, you know, incorporated into not just my division, but you know, divisions across the corporation, because really, it has to be, you know, embedded across the corporation. And, and I guess it’s the document that kind of, confirms and demonstrates the city and the community’s commitment to climate action in those different sort of thematic areas. 

And so the plan kind of lays out different suggestions and actions. And then, you know, a portion of those are directed at the corporate reduction. So those are the 5% of the total emissions in the city of Peterborough are from the City of Peterborough, the municipalities actions, and then the 95% come from the community at large. So there’s, they’re broken down into targeting, you know, things that are more operational for city staff to implement them. The other ones are more, you know, areas that the community would need to lead or the city could potentially influence or maybe facilitate community action in that regard.

4:48 Ayesha

Okay, and what monitoring do we do – like how do we know if we’re on track?

4:52 Michael Papadacos

We do a review of the inventory, more or less and reproduce the greenhouse gas inventory that was developed as part of that plan. So that plan, when it was first completed, did a set of baseline of the year 2011. And through, you know, some assumptions and modeling and calculations and data analysis, kind of put together a greenhouse gas emission total in 2011. And then, what we’ve done now in this draft report that we’re working on getting completed is the update, right? So we kind of have done a check against that and looked at how things are going.

5:38 Ayesha 

So once that report is done we’ll know for like the past 10 years, I guess, how we’ve been doing?

5:43 Michael Papadacos 

Yes, yeah, that’s right.

5:44 Ayesha 

Okay. So and correct me if I’m wrong here. But as I understand it, there’s another part of the plan that’s about adapting. I think there’s also an element of adapting our infrastructure and being ready for climate change events. I wondered if you could speak to what sort of events Peterborough is vulnerable to? And can you give me an example of what climate change adaptation looks like?

6:06 Michael Papadacos 

Yeah, sure. So the two biggest ones are in terms of climate impacts, and the things that we’re at risk for here in Peterborough, and it’s common for many municipalities, but it’s flooding and the impact of significant weather events; and then the other one is increased number of extreme heat days would be the would be the other sort of main impact that we are looking to kind of adapt to.

So in terms of like, what adaptation looks like, you know, this is actually something where, you know, the city of Peterborough is maybe a little bit ahead of the curve, because of our experience with the flood in 2004. Right. So that flood, while it wasn’t centered at a time where a lot of people were thinking about climate change and adapting to climate change, it did illustrate for the residents of the city that we’re vulnerable to this type of an event and in a significant way. So the the city kind of over the, you know, 5-10 years  that followed, put a lot of effort into developing flood reduction master plans, that took a look at sort of the overall city and suggested a series of programs to, you know, improve the state of the existing infrastructure, as well as looking how to study and recommend further improvements into the future. 

You know, one of the biggest ones and sort of the centerpiece of that flood reduction masterplan is the central area flood reduction project, right. So that’s the Jackson Creek diversion channel, right, that’s going to protect a large portion of the downtown core from the impacts of the 100 year flood event. So that’s an example of climate change action, adaptation and action. 

You know, actually, we had a really good example, earlier this year. Back in January, we had a significant rain event that actually caused a little bit of localized flooding in East city right along Curtis Creek, I think there were about three or four properties that were impacted where the creek spilled. And it’s at that time, we were in the process of finishing a project there, where we were expanding the size of the culverts that go under all the roads there in East City to increase the hydraulic capacity of that Creek during a significant rainfall event. And, you know, we were literally a few months away from finishing the outlet. And if we’d have had that outlet finished, there’s a good chance that there would have been no properties impacted. If we hadn’t done the culvert work and made those adaptive projects and implemented them, we probably would have actually dozens and another significant flood event on our hands. So I guess that’s a great example of adaptation and action is understanding that, you know, regardless of what happens the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years, we’re going to see more of these events of higher duration, frequency and intensity. And so, you know, we need to do our part to identify where those risks are, and make, you know, the strategic investments to reduce the risks to the residents of the city.

9:33 Ayesha  

Hmm, it’s an interesting thing to invest in, because if the investments are happening, and the work is going ahead properly, we’re not going to have these extreme problems where everyone calls for action. So it has to kind of happen in the background.

9:48 Michael Papadacos  

Well, it’s you know, there’s an adage in the infrastructure world, right, which is: if you’re not boring, you’re not doing your job. Right. And I think there was a great John Oliver sketch of all things where he tried to make infrastructure exciting. But if infrastructure is being planned, built and managed properly, then, you know, the hope is that most people don’t know that’s going on, and they can go on with the other elements of their life.

10:16 Ayesha  

Sure. And I think we can see in a lot of the infrastructure capital projects in this year’s budget, most of them have a yes or no, or just a yes (I don’t think the noes are included) for climate mitigation or climate adaptation or both. Can you just walk me through a little bit of what makes the criteria for both climate mitigation and climate adaptation?

10:42 Michael Papadacos

Sure. So climate mitigation, I think you’d mentioned it earlier, that’s any kind of action that reduces a contributing factor to climate change. So that would be reducing primarily anything that creates greenhouse gases, right. So if it’s the heating of buildings, or the powering of, of buildings, or the fuel used in our fleet, things of that nature, right. So any type of a project where completion of the project will result in a, you know, quantifiable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, that would qualify it as a climate mitigation type project. A climate adaptation project, on the other hand, would be something that helps to build some resilience into the city with respect to, you know, some climate change impacts. So primarily, Is it some kind of a flood reduction measure or improvement? Or is it some kind of a project that might help in the event of more extreme heat days?

11:46 Ayesha 

I see, so it’s about meeting these specific targets of reducing emissions fossil fuel use, and I think the other one was energy consumption? It doesn’t include things like environmental stewardship, that’s just a totally different portfolio. Is that right?

12:01 Michael Papadacos

Well, I guess you know, environmental stewardship, depending on what element you’re looking at, will have components of one or the other or possibly both. Right? So, for instance, you know, investments that we make in our emerald ash borer program, right. So the emerald ash borer is an invasive species that is killing all ash trees in the city, we’ve invested money to strategically save as many of the ash trees that we can, that are in primarily, you know, street tree scenarios. And so that would be an example of a stewardship type of an initiative, right, trying to protect and save these trees that are at risk. You know, they’re at risk, partially because of, it’s an adaptation, it’s a response, right? We’re having to respond in this way. Because, you know, the ash borer is an invasive species and its growth, in some respects and spread has is accelerated by climate change. And so that would be an example of where, you know, preserving, preserving those would be some, both an adaptation action, because we’re adapting to this impact, but then also, because trees, store carbon, they help, you know, reduce, reduce, you know, air pollution, local air pollution, and some of the impacts of that would be a mitigation impact as well. And then also the shade, right, trees provide shade, so that helps reduce heat island effects. So it’s also that adaptation on the extreme heat side of things as well.

13:36 Ayesha

Sure, it seems like an interesting lens to analyze these different projects as well, I guess on the other hand, and one project that kind of caught my eye in the budget was, and it’s not seeing any money till 2023. But that’s the development of the Parkway into a high use road serving the north end of the city. That is labeled in the budget as a climate mitigation project. So I guess that’s just the kind of flipside reverse example of not necessarily being environmental stewardship.

14:06 Michael Papadacos

Yeah, you know, a project that is underway right now is a pilot to improve the optimization and synchronization of our traffic signals, right. So, traffic congestion is a contributor to mitigation, or is a contributor to climate change in greenhouse gas emissions. So that’s, yeah, that’s, that’s a possibly an example of where, you know, a mitigation. It would reduce traffic. But again, you know, to your point, there’s probably some, you know, the devils in the details.

14:44 Ayesha

Sure. Um, one thing I noticed in the capital budget, there’s a line item for sustainability projects. And you can correct me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t is that new to the budget this year? And could you speak to what those are?

14:59 Michael Papadacos

Not the sustainability projects, that has been in the budget for a few years, it predates my time at the city. So I can’t speak to exactly when it would have come into the budget. But the intention for that, for that bucket of money is for getting city funds in place primarily so we can access funding opportunities, you know, when there’s funding opportunities, most of the time, it’s not just free money, right, it’s usually say 50%, or up to some percentage. So we do have to have some skin in the game as a municipality. So what that budget provides is for us to be able to undertake those types of projects. 

That line item in the budget is primarily for things that are hard built assets. So an example of what we’ve earmarked some of that money for, you know, we’ve made an application to the Natural Resources Canada, who’s will fund up to 50% of electric vehicle charging infrastructure for employers, right, to allow for them to consider electric vehicles as part of their fleet. So we have an application into NRCan to get 50% of the funding, so we can install dual charging stations at various city facilities. 

So that way, you know, that takes takes away sort of that chicken and egg conundrum sometimes where, you know, a manager may want to consider when we’re looking at replacing a vehicle in the fleet, you know, it might be a light duty vehicle, or there might be a suitable electric vehicle that we could consider, you know, without the charging infrastructure, right, that’s a harder choice to make. So by doing this, right, we can leverage some municipal money into funding from another level of government. We are looking to build that infrastructure, it will be city owned infrastructure on city properties around the city. So that way, we could look at, at fleet considerations or electric vehicle considerations. facility. 

So we looked at, you know, I think we proposed some additional – because you know, there’s some charger chargers that the King Street parking garage, we’ve proposed some additional charges, but those would be dedicated then for parking vehicles, parking enforcement vehicles, or parking division vehicles. We’ve looked at public works yard, having a couple installed there. Same with the wastewater treatment plant, and then another one, I think, at the, at the transit yard. So those are so the idea is to have those they’d be owned by the city, we would then have them at our facilities, and then we can use them for charging and electric vehicles that we procure in the coming years.

17:37 Ayesha

I see. So this comes first, and then it opens up the possibility of moving to electric or partially electric fleet for various departments.

17:45 Michael Papadacos

Right, yeah, exactly.

17:47 Ayesha

Um, great. Well, okay, so I just want to – we’re running out of time and I have two questions left, if you have another couple minutes? So late last year, Mayor and Council voted to declare a climate change emergency. I wondered if you could just speak to how that impacted progress on the climate change action plan and your work, if at all?

18:08 Michael Papadacos  

Sure, so. So I guess the emergency climate change emergency declaration provided additional sort of priority, part of a priority and focus, as seen in the budgeting, and you know, it’s integrated across all city departments and divisions. You know, I think the one probably one of the biggest things that it did is it prompted council to make additional dedicated funding commitments through last year’s budget where they created a climate change reserve. That has been continued in this year’s draft budget, or recommended in this year’s draft budget, and then those funds are helping to kind of fund some of these other some of these projects as well. So I think that, you know, I think that it provided an opportunity to focus counsel in providing some resources to be able to advance that.

18:59 Ayesha  

Okay, I think, yeah, sorry. I think I confused sustainability projects and the new climate change fund as the new thing in this budget. I don’t think I saw any, I guess with withdrawals or any projects being financed through the reserve fund, is that right?

19:17 Michael Papadacos

So yeah, when the reserve was established as part of the 2020 budget process. We brought a report forward in March of this year, I made some recommendations on how to suggest spending that or to bring forward a report to how we would spend some of that as well as making a couple recommendations. That was literally right when the onset of the pandemic happened and so council just said pause on allocating those monies until we have a better sense on where things stand. Okay, so the money is there. It’s earmarked for this. They just asked us not to spend much of it. So what we did over the course of this year was we, you know, we we found other ways that we could advance projects, you know, with existing funding or, you know, again looking towards, you know, where is it that we can leverage outside outside monies or funding to be able to advance some of the objectives that are contained within there. And then if you look in this year’s budget, some of these projects are being funded through the climate change reserve.

20:28 Ayesha

Okay, gotcha. Well, thanks so much for taking us through this today. I really appreciate your time, Michael.

20:34 Michael Papadacos

No problem, Ayesha, thank you for the questions.

20:42 Ayesha

That was Michael Papadacos, head of the infrastructure management division at the City of Peterborough. We ran out of time towards the end before we could get to specific budget lines that are drafted to receive funding from the Climate Change Action Plan Reserve Fund, so I followed up by email and here’s what I found out.

In the draft 2021 budget there is a specific line item for implementing the Climate Change Action Plan which has a total of $1.5 million over the next 10 years and $150,000 for spending in 2021. This budget item is for seed funding climate change projects in the community.

In a separate budget line, there’s also half a million dollars over the next 10 years set towards Sustainability Projects for the city’s corporate services – which includes the electric vehicle charging stations that Michael spoke about. In 2021 that spending is drafted at $65,000.

Also the operating budget proposes to convert the Climate Change coordinator position from a contract to a full-time job.

And the last budget line drawing funds from the climate change action reserve is the $250,000 drafted to be spent in 2021 on the alternative fuel study for Peterborough Transit, which would look at the implications of transitioning the bus fleet off of fossil fuels.

That’s all the spending that draws specifically from the climate change reserve fund that Michael was speaking about towards the end of our interview. But there’s also other investments being made towards the Climate Action Plan’s goals.

Michael wrote that, “You can think of the Climate Change Reserve as bonus funding on top of a host of investments in climate action that are already being made. “

He notes that other initiatives like the Source Separated Organics Program, the conversion of decorative streetlights to LED, the watershed plan and many others contribute towards the climate action plan and are spread out across the budget.

I know that’s a lot of information – I’ve also prepared a write-up of this info on our website with some additional details, since it might be easier to digest by reading about it.

That’s all for Peterborough Currents today, thanks so much for listening. Music in this episode comes courtesy of the Mayhemingways. My name is Ayesha Barmania. City council is deliberating on the budget this week, and our next episode will bring you some of the highlights of those meetings. Talk to you soon. Bye for now.


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