WATERLOO — As municipalities across Canada work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change, a local politician will help guide those discussions.
City of Waterloo Coun. Diane Freeman has been named one of four municipal “climate champions” by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. She plans to highlight local actions to demonstrate ways cities and towns can contribute in the fight against a warming planet.
“I’m very excited. I see a real opportunity for the Region of Waterloo to be showcased across Canada with regard to our climate change efforts as a city and a region,” said Freeman. “And I look forward to working with the stakeholders in our region to be a messenger of their great work.”
That includes local projects like the conversion of tens of thousands of local street lights to more efficient LED technology, the construction of Evolv1 (Canada’s first net-positive, zero-carbon office building) and grassroots organizations such as Sustainable Waterloo Region and the environmental charity Reep Green Solutions.
According to the federation, Freeman and the other three climate champions will “share knowledge and expertise with fellow elected officials in communities of all sizes and speak at events across the country.” They will “aim to inspire and support peers taking climate action in communities from coast to coast to coast.”
Last year, the Region of Waterloo and the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge unanimously endorsed a target of reducing greenhouse gas reduction by 80 per cent by 2050. According to Climate Action WR, the region reduced emissions by 5.2 per cent between 2010 and 2015 — the equivalent of taking nearly 60,000 cars off the road.
A UN report released in October found global emissions must drop by 45 per cent before 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2075 to avoid surpassing the 1.5 C increase in global temperatures now considered the “safe” upper limit of global warming.
The problem is more complicated than simply reducing emissions, though, as some climate change impacts, such as more intense storms, are already occurring. A study released in November found that Canadian municipalities need to do a better job developing climate change adaptation strategies.
The three other municipal leaders are Taylor Bachrach, mayor of Smithers, B.C., former City of Ottawa councillor David Chernushenko, and Laval Coun. Virginie Dufour.
Freeman had to apply to the position and submit a resume, and was also interviewed. She won’t be paid for the role but will be reimbursed for her expenses.
First elected to city council in 2006, representing Ward 4, Freeman has been on the board of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Share the Road cycling coalition, where she helped deliver Ontario’s first bike summit. That summit led to the creation of the Bicycle Friendly Community Awards in Ontario in 2010, and the first provincial cycling strategy.
The City of Waterloo is one of three gold ranked cycling communities in the province, along with Ottawa and Toronto. Kitchener is ranked silver and Cambridge is bronze.
Freeman said she has been a champion for building accessible communities by planning, funding and installing sidewalks, trails and dedicated bicycle infrastructure, all of which reduces the municipal reliance on cars or trucks.
She is also a professional engineer and was president of Professional Engineers Ontario in 2010-201