This interview is part of the FCM–ICLEI series, PCP’s Local Climate Change Heroes, which features PCP program members.
Chris Vaughn, the sustainability projects coordinator for the City of Yellowknife, belongs to a team of dedicated staff actively engaged in climate change and sustainability issues. With a background in bioresource engineering, Chris came on board in 2016 when Yellowknife was developing its second-generation climate change plan. His top priority is to integrate climate change considerations into energy, asset management and waste management practices within the municipality. He is actively engaged in promoting energy-efficiency measures at the corporate and community levels, including planning towards a Local Improvement Charge (LIC) program for Yellowknife, which has the potential to help property owners finance energy-efficiency improvements or renewable energy projects.
Q: What progress have you seen on climate change in the City of Yellowknife?
A: In the north, we see the effects of climate change in a way that other parts of the country might not see, like unstable permafrost. These impacts make us very vulnerable, therefore we must position ourselves for a sustainable and resilient future. Our heating degree day value is around 7,000, almost twice as much as southern cities like Ottawa. Therefore, compared to many cities where most greenhouse gas emissions may come from transportation, our emissions are largely derived from heating.
We first joined the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program in 1998, mainly to tackle our problem of high energy costs. We have made strides in transitioning the city facilities away from heating oil and towards wood pellets in order to be more energy- and cost-efficient. We have completed a waste management plan to divert residential and commercial organics away from the landfill. We are developing an asset management program that takes stock of the condition of our infrastructure in order to minimize risks of failure due to the impacts of climate change. We also are working to improve our communication campaigns to actively communicate with the public on how they can help combat climate change through their own choices and practices.
Q: What is one of the most challenging aspects of your work and how do you address it?
A: Compared to other cities, like Montreal where I used to work, a small community like ours can more easily integrate different perspectives and priorities, and the collaborations between departments can get things moving faster. We also have a greater level of accountability, awareness and accessibility on the part of community members and stakeholders. Our energy plan and asset management programs must look at our vulnerability to climate change as a northern community, in terms of both risks and financial costs related to our current infrastructure.
You also need people with diverse perspectives from different fields to solve a problem. It is rewarding for me to meet with different managers and staff from across the City to improve our service delivery or to sit down with community stakeholders to explore their needs.
Q: How does the PCP program help support your work? Are any other networks important to your work?
A: It is great to see what other communities are doing and to be able to learn from their energy and sustainability plans. The program enables us to find resources and meet with other people who would otherwise be difficult to reach out to. Right now, we are revisiting our asset management plan, and are in contact with other municipalities through FCM’s Climate and Asset Management Network. Through the PCP program, we borrow ideas and best practices from other municipalities with similar situations, which saves us time and resources.
We are also a part of QUEST’s Smart Energy Communities Scorecard initiative to build an energy profile. Currently we are at the stage of information collection. The next step will target the implementation of actions.
Chris can tell you about his experience in:
- Waste and compost management
- Northern climate change policies and practices
- Engaging stakeholders effectively and meaningfully
Sustainable Projects Coordinator
City of Yellowknife, NT
Photo Credits: City of Yellowknife