Ottawa

Councillors declare climate emergency

Ottawa will likely become the next Canadian city to declare a climate emergency after its environment committee agreed to make fighting climate a priority this term of council.

'I can't think of anything more important to do today,' says woman who joined morning rally

A few hundred people protested outside Ottawa City Hall on April 16, 2019, calling on councillors and the mayor to declare a climate emergency as some other municipalities have done. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Ottawa will likely become the next Canadian city to declare a climate emergency after its environment committee agreed to make fighting climate a priority this term of council.

The motion to declare a climate emergency was put on the committee table on Tuesday by Coun. Shawn Menard, who worked on it with staff.

"[Staff] are not dinosaurs that don't believe in climate change," Menard said. "They care about it, they believe it's real and they want support and help to change things."

Along with the declaration itself, it made seven other recommendations. Many solidified or sped up work the city was already doing, such as increasing the use of renewable energy in buildings and transportation and doing a study of how vulnerable Ottawa is to warmer, wetter weather.

Coun. Shawn Menard said city staff aren't 'dinosaurs who don't believe in climate change' and want support and help to change things. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Motion not just 'symbolic'

Coun. Scott Moffatt refuted criticism that the motion was merely for show.

"If it was symbolic, it would not be here [at committee]. I wouldn't let it get to this point," said Moffatt. "Kingston's was. There was nothing to it. They've achieved nothing, except for joining a list of cities that have declared climate emergencies."

Moffatt believes what's good for the economy and what's good for the environment aren't mutually exclusive.

Councillors Catherine McKenney, Keith Egli, and Riley Brockington, meanwhile, were compelled by the voices of the young people who spoke at a rally outside city hall and at committee.

"If the kids and our youth are telling us this needs to be done, I think we should listen to them," Egli said.

Ottawa city council has pledged to make fighting climate change a priority during this term of council. But some protesters say it's not enough. 0:40

Rally pushed for declaration

A couple of hundred people rallied outside City Hall Tuesday morning to push for the declaration, which Montreal, Hamilton, Kingston and Vancouver have already made.

Twenty years from now, this world is going to be totally different and it scares the heck out of me.- Diewke de Haen, resident

Geena Schramm is a student at Carleton University, but remembers being in Grade 4 and crying alongside classmates as they learned about the effects of climate change on the planet.

"Why can children understand the issue but not the people walking on the street, contributing to society?"

Schramm said she can't imagine what today's Grade 4 students are learning, and that's why she made her way to the rally to push for a climate emergency.

"I think it would add a sense of urgency and seriousness to this issue, because it's obviously been a lot of slow and gradual action to an issue that's not slow and gradual."

Is climate change an emergency? Protesters outside city hall say YES and want city councillors to make it official. 5:51

Diewke de Haen brought her two kids to City Hall.

"This is the future for my kids, right? I hazard to think of the world they are going to grow up in," said de Haen. "I can't think of anything more important to do today."

Motion passed 6 to 2

Menard's motion passed at committee six to two.

Councillors Allan Hubley and George Darouze took issue with the word "emergency" and voted against the motion. They suggested the city was already doing a lot on climate change, and the federal and provincial governments needed to take more leadership. 

"To sit here around this table and say we're in an emergency and the sky is going to fall, and put fear in the residents of the City of Ottawa, I don't agree with that," Darouze said

The climate emergency motion still needs full council's approval.

Coun. Scott Moffatt says the declaration could serve as a guideline for city staff when it comes to taking action on climate change. 0:49