'It's real': Edmonton city council declares climate emergency

Edmonton city council is declaring a climate emergency, bolstering the city's policy to act faster to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Councillors vote 10-3 to support declaration, following Halifax, Vancouver and Kingston

Council passed the motion after agreeing to a stronger energy transition strategy by mid-2020 to match global standards. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Edmonton city council is declaring a climate emergency, bolstering the city's policy to act faster to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The declaration is intended to speed up the city's effort to cut carbon emissions under a revised energy transition strategy — which council approved earlier in the meeting.

Council is calling for a 10-year action plan to align with the goal to keep the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees.

Making the declaration "removes all ambiguity" about the issue, said Coun. Aaron Paquette, who put forward the motion at Tuesday's council meeting

"The debate on whether climate change is real is over," he said. "It's real. The debate we can have is what are we going to do about it?"

Mayor Don Iveson noted an emergency is defined as a serious, unexpected and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action. 

"Does this fit this test? I think it does," Iveson told council. 

"I think getting the language right is important, because the language around climate change has been problematic all the way along." 

Climate change is abstract, Iveson argued, and the term global warming is misleading. 

Iveson said he heard one scientist say it should have been called "global climate destabilization," because that would make more sense, as the planet's thermodynamic systems are being altered at a pace never seen before. 

Paquette noted that by approving the declaration Edmonton joins several other jurisdictions, including Halifax, Vancouver, Kingston and the province of Quebec.

Council voted 10-3 in support of the motion, with Jon Dziadyk, Tony Caterina and Mike Nickel voting against. 

Nickel said there's no doubt that climate change exists and the city needs to help mitigate the impacts. 

He likened the language in the motion to instilling "panic or fear to get your attention on the issues." 

"It should be talking about efficiency, it should be talking about protection, it should be talking about better ways to do our business."

City staff will analyze ways to accomplish "deep emissions reductions" and do an economic analysis on costs and benefits.

Greener buildings, transportation and energy are a few areas where the city will accelerate its efforts, Iveson said, to reach targets by 2030 instead of 2050.

Following the motion, city staff were also asked to explore regulatory tools.

"We have a leadership role in the buildings that we build but a regulatory role in encouraging the private sector and private buyers to move toward a carbon-neutral high-performing buildings much sooner than our original energy transition required," Iveson said. 

'Not constructive'

Nickel noted there was no discussion of what the declaration or revised energy transition strategy will cost. 

He described the declaration as an almost "religious fervour on the part of some of these councillors with regards to climate change." 

"It's not constructive," he said.

Mayor Don Iveson and Coun. Michael Walters discuss the motion with city staff, who will be asked to present an interim report on energy transition strategy in December. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Iveson and Paquette said they see the declaration as an opportunity for business innovation. 

The mayor said he remains hopeful the federal government will continue to invest in green programs and that the provincial government will come around to providing support, despite the UCP cancelling the carbon tax earlier this year. 

Coun. Michael Walters said councillors themselves should start making changes in travel and habits, if they haven't already. 

"Practice what we preach." 

He suggested cutting air travel by half and using active forms of transportation more often. 

An interim report on these actions is due at the end of the year, with the goal of an updated plan by mid-2020.



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