A warming Earth isn’t just a global concern, it’s now an emergency for Nanaimo.
Nanaimo city council passed a motion Monday to officially declare a climate emergency.
Coun. Tyler Brown’s motion was passed along with four supporting motions including refreshing an unused emissions reduction reserve, incorporating new targets in the community sustainability action plan, requesting 20,000 hours of public transit expansion, and advocating that the provincial government reinstate community emissions reporting.
The purpose of declaring a climate emergency, according to Brown’s motion, is to strengthen a commitment to protect the community, including the economy and ecosystems, from impacts of global warming.
“The task is monumental,” Brown told council. “It requires us to confront the issue with honesty and accountability. It requires us to make decisions based on scientific evidence, but it also requires faith. Faith that we can and we will overcome the greatest challenge facing us, without having all the answers right now.”
The climate emergency declaration was unanimous, with some councillors especially supportive.
Coun. Ben Geselbracht said declaring a climate emergency is not alarmist, it’s realistic, adding that extreme weather is costly and disruptive.
“We have the opportunity as Canadians to be leaders in transforming our world to the clean, green economy of the future,” Geselbracht said. “We either do it now on our own terms or we force our kids to do it in much worse conditions later.”
Coun. Zeni Maartman had previously expressed an intention to motion that the City of Nanaimo declare a climate emergency, but had withdrawn the motion pending strategic discussions.
“I think the climate emergency is actually an emergency, because if you look at the big picture and the thousands and millions of years that the world has existed, we have a nanosecond to actually correct this,” she said.
Coun. Don Bonner said declaring a climate emergency sets a tone for how council can move forward with action and said he’s honoured to be part of a council willing to take a leadership role on climate action.
“If in the event that we do go over this cliff, I don’t want anybody pointing a finger at Nanaimo and saying we didn’t do our part,” Bonner said.
Coun. Erin Hemmens said reading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on keeping global warming to 1.5 C, it worried her as a community leader but terrified her as a mother.
“I think we have a legitimate reason as a community to be very frightened for our future,” she said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe also read the IPCC report’s summary for policymakers and said “not everybody accepts that science.” He said councillors should look at a range of decisions through an environmental lens, but said declaring an emergency suggests the city should drop everything to tend to that emergency.
“Although of course I want to protect the environment and I realize the value of motions to do that, I also have to remember that my mandate at this table is to deal with issues that we can directly affect for the citizens of Nanaimo. And by that I mean keeping our streets clean and safe, providing basic services and amenities that people want, while keeping their taxes reasonably low,” said Thorpe. “So those are the sort of nuts-and-bolts issues that I think this table has responsibility for.”
Council was unanimous in declaring a climate emergency, requesting the transit-hours expansion, and advocating for the province to reinstate a community emissions inventory.
Brown’s motion noted that the 20,000 annual transit hours – in addition to the 127,000 transit hours currently in place – would help the city realize goals of the transportation master plan “around the implementation of frequent and rapid bus transit, more frequent service on local lines, and stronger integration with regional connections.”
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong wanted a staff report on that motion, but city clerk Sheila Gurrie noted that since transit is a regional function, the city would not be able to provide certain information.
“This is really to get the ball rolling in that regard, get that information at the regional district level and then eight out of our nine representatives would then be in a position to say, yes, this expansion request makes sense, we’re comfortable with that funding, or alternatively, we may not be, and that would be the decision of that board,” Brown said.
Thorpe and Coun. Jim Turley opposed the motion to refresh and make accessible the unused emissions reduction reserve; the motion came with no accompanying staff report. According to Brown’s motion, the city has been continuing to fund the reserve, though its memorandum of agreement has expired, and Brown wrote in his motion the balance is at more than $600,000.
Only Turley opposed the motion to update the community sustainability action plan with IPCC targets in mind.