Communities around Nova Scotia have taken it upon themselves to bring a sharp focus and urgency to the looming climate crisis, investing strategically in projects and people to meet Canada’s Net-Zero by 2050 climate targets. Municipalities like Wolfville have brought on people from across a spectrum of experiences and expertise not only to enhance the lives of their residents. Omar Bhimji is one of those people.
In May 2019, Wolfville hired Omar Bhimji as the Town’s climate change mitigation coordinator. Bhimji’s work focuses on advancing the Town’s position in the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program, including updating the Town’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory, setting an emissions reduction target, and developing a climate change mitigation plan. Bhimji says he has always been passionate about the environment, but the turning point for him to take a more active role in environmental issues was the birth of his son.
“Learning about climate change and feeling responsible for the future of this little creature and other people, it got me focused on trying to figure out how to become a part of the fight against climate change,” said Bhimji.
“The main thrust of my job now is developing a plan for climate change mitigation action in Wolfville for the next 20 to 30 years.” The 42-year-old is an avid cyclist and has been passionate about the sport since an early age. This led to his involvement in cycling advocacy and encouragement projects and events. “From there I branched out from cycling into other areas to get people away from cars and into more sustainable and active modes of transportation,” he said. “It was mathematical after that, just looking at the pie chart and identifying that transportation was the biggest source of GHG emissions (in British Columbia) and asking, how can we work on that?”
Before his work in Wolfville, Bhimji managed a series of small-scale transportation planning projects in British Columbia as part of a workers cooperative called HASTe, working with 14 communities to develop small-scale neighbourhood transportation plans around schools, libraries, and other community hubs.
For Wolfville, Bhimji is focused on facilitating mobility more broadly across the town, investigating non-vehicle transportation options like separated bike lanes and community transit services. During the summer of 2020, the town of Wolfville added three new electric bikes to the BookBike lending program in partnership with the Wolfville branch of the Annapolis Valley Regional Library.
The addition of the new electric bikes was the idea of a local resident, who Bhimji helped secure a grant from the Province’s Connect2 funding program.Connect2 is based on all trips under two kilometres to key destinations in Nova Scotia communities that can be made using clean modes of transportation. “We need to encourage and enable people from all parts of Wolfville to get out of their cars,” he said.
Bhimji will be working with Bicycle Nova Scotia through their HUBS program on a community-led design for an upgraded bike network in Town, a network of all-ages-and-abilities bike paths through Wolfville that will connect as many residential areas and key destinations as possible. In addition, Bhimji said the town will be working on a feasibility study for a community transit program.
“ (we) are trying to figure out the feasibility of high frequency –hopefully electric – convenient local transit service… especially in the winter months,” said Bhimji. The idea is to give people safe, convenient, and sustainable options, to “rebalance the scales so we aren’t such a driving-oriented community where driving is the only logical way to get around.”
For Bhimji, connecting and helping people realize there are actions they can take to reduce their emissions that are important and impactful, is key to making them a part of a solution, to help them appreciate the scale of the climate change problem and their role in fixing it.
“There are concrete steps people can take in their daily lives that can have a really big impact in their personal or collective emissions,” he said. “I would love to get the Town to a point where we can confidently and effectively communicate and provide those opportunities to people.”
Written by Mario Ernesto Carranza