Hamilton declares a climate change emergency

The city of Hamilton has joined a handful of Canadian municipalities by declaring a climate emergency.

'We're urging you to step it up,' says Lynda Lukasik. 'I don't know how else to put it'

Students in B.C. protested this month, urging decision makers to take bigger actions around climate change. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The city of Hamilton has joined a handful of Canadian municipalities by declaring a climate emergency.

Pending a final city council vote, the city has vowed to treat climate change as an existential crisis. It will establish a task force across numerous departments and try to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The vote happened Monday at a city board of health meeting. All 10 councillors present voted for the declaration. An audience of environmentalists cheered, then hugged each other afterward. 

The declaration is necessary, said Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton. She cited a chilling October 2018 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said humanity has 11 years left to make major changes before there's massive loss of life.

"We've got to get moving here," Lukasik said. "We're urging you to step it up. I don't know how else to put it."

Students in Nova Scotia did a climate change march this month. (Robert Short/CBC)

Cities such as Vancouver, Halifax, Kingston and Edmundston, New Brunswick have declared climate emergencies. 

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It's still not clear what result will come from Hamilton's declaration. Lukasik said she hopes councillors will factor it into every decision, including when it allows urban boundary expansions. Building in existing urban areas, she said, is better for the environment.

As for the task force, city staff will report back this year with some details around establishing it. That task force will figure out what actions the city has to take to reach the emissions target.

Hamilton councillors waffled for a while Monday before making the declaration. Jason Farr, Ward 2 (downtown) councillor, said those cities put a lot more preparation into it.

Lloyd Ferguson, Ward 12 (Ancaster) councillor, said council didn't know enough about what it meant.

"An emergency to me is a 737 Max 8 crashing in Hamilton, or a major building downtown on fire, or the sewage treatment plant lift pump failing and flooding the downtown," he said. "This is something that needs to be thought through. We need to know the cost."

In the end, Nrinder Nann (Ward 3) just moved declaring the emergency. "Let's just take the political will right now," she said.

Ferguson got frustrated midway through the debate and got up to go to another meeting.

"Shame on you, Lloyd," called someone in the audience.

Ferguson gestured at the gallery. "Can we get that crowd out of here?"

Here's who was present for the vote: Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Farr, Nrinder Nann (3), Sam Merulla (4), John-Paul Danko (8), Brad Clark (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), and Mayor Fred Eisenberger.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca