Local government officials are often climate leaders, except when it comes to flying to conferences

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      This morning, Vancouver developer and architect Michael Geller put out the type of tweet that reinforces the public's suspicion of bureaucrats.

      The picture featured the spacious and luxurious lobby of the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.

      The message noted that it had been booked by municipal officials in Ontario for a conference.

      Geller, donning the cloak of a taxpayer, asked why they weren't staying at an airport hotel where the price would be much lower.

      Good question.

      What wasn't mentioned is that cities are actually leading the way in helping to address the climate crisis. 

      That was apparent at the 2015 Paris climate summit, where local governments helped embolden world leaders to take tougher action.

      It's worth noting that conferences offer opportunities for bureaucrats and politicians to learn new ways to cut their cities' carbon footprints.

      But Geller's tweet has left me wondering if it's necessary for municipal officials to fly to as often nowadays. With technological advances, it's possible to put on online webinars and teleconferences to promote learning.

      According to a 2017 paper published in Environmental Research Letters, a person can prevent 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by forgoing just one round-trip flight across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans 

      Earlier this year, academic Ryan Katz-Rosene told the Straight that a return flight between Ottawa and Vancouver is, from a carbon standpoint, the equivalent of "chain-sawing down an acre of mature forest".

      Katz-Rosene is president of the Environment Studies Association of Canada. He's decided to stop flying to academic conferences.

      He's not alone. More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition calling on universities and professional associations to greatly reduce flying to help address the climate crisis.

      Some academics have decided that they're going to fly less to try to reduce their carbon emissions.
      Julian Herzog

      This flying-less petition has 668 academic supporters, including some professors at UBC and SFU.

      But this movement hasn't yet focused on whether political parties and lobbying groups should be taking similar steps to reduce their carbon footprints.

      The Canadian Federation of Municipalities, which lobbies for local governments, has scheduled two more board of directors meetings this year in Ontario and five more in different locations in 2020.

      It's also holding "advocacy days" from November 26 to 29 in Ottawa.

      This will give board members an opportunity to fly to the national capital to meet with parliamentarians just before "federal budget season".

      No doubt, the equivalent of hectares of forests will be mowed down to get politicians to and from this event.

      This is the case even though the Federation of Canadian Municipalities already has staff in Ottawa who can contact various ministries.

      Local politicians have MPs that they can approach individually at home or over email—and they can make submissions to the Commons finance committee.

      In addition, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has a big city mayors caucus, providing a forum for the elected leaders of Canada's 22 biggest cities.

      One can only imagine what the organization's entire carbon footprint might be.

      Vancouver's former bicycle-riding mayor, Gregor Robertson, will likely be doing a fair amount of flying in his new role as a global ambassador.
      Yolande Cole

      Here's another example. Earlier this year, former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson was appointed as the global ambassador for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

      Vancouver media were encouraged to contact a public relations firm through an email address that was provided.

      I wrote asking if Robertson was going to offset his carbon emissions when he was doing business for the organization. I also asked if this was going to be publicly reported.

      I never heard a response.

      Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the role that local governments are playing in reducing their cities' impact on the planet.

      Vancouver has been a leader in this regard, though much more needs to be done.

      I just wonder if it's necessary for so many local politicians and local government staff to get on airplanes as often as they do.

      Perhaps their time would be better spent planning for how their economies can make a transition to a time when there will be less flying in and out of their cities. 

      That's because this will inevitably occur, given the world's climate crisis.