Taking Action on Climate Crisis
May 28, 2019
On May 27th, Guelph City Council voted to “acknowledge the climate crisis.” It is not the exact wording that I put on the floor as a motion, nor is it what all of the passionate and articulae delegations were demanding.
Democracy unfolds like that sometimes. Democracy is not always unanimous, nor should it be. When we are in Council Chambers, we debate, we disagree, we defend our positions, we passionately advocate for our values and our constituents, we listen, we amend, we debate some more, and then we vote. The meeting adjourns.
The next day, we stand together. We rally. We unite and support our staff. We act. We get to work on implementation. We hold each other accountable for commitments we made to the community through our motions.
Disagreement is not divisive, it's diversity. It's representative of the same conversations that are happening in the community. The climate crisis is on everyone's minds - young and old - so it is no surprise that this conversation made its way into Council Chambers.
We heard loud and clear from the many passionate letters and delegations that the climate crisis is already affecting lives. It is not a global issue far, far away. It is local and now. The ripple effect on our social structure, our infrastructure, our economic viability, species at risk, our transportation systems, our energy choices, our food security, and much more, is already here. And it’s only going to get worse.
We heard that youth are scared, they're disillusioned, they're frustrated and losing hope. And they're channelling that despair into change. We heard from seniors that they’re ashamed, they fear for their grandchildren, and they’ve lost faith in government to do the right thing over profit. We heard from labour and students and everything in between. They feel like victims, they feel betrayed, they feel voiceless against the rich and powerful.
And they all agree – that actions speak louder than words. Words inspire. Words create clarity. Words lead to action. But in the end, if we are serious about the climate crisis, our actions will define us.
In acknowledging the climate crisis, I am hopeful that all members of Council are united in moving forward on an ambitious and transformative body of work that will address climate change.
Lost in the debate were a number of additional motions that are significant steps forward:
- all future reports of Council are to contain a section titled "Climate Change Implications" outlining how the recommendations help us to achieve our Net Zero and/or 100% Renewables goal
- hiring a project manager for the Climate Change office to implement the 100% Renewables goal
- OEG is to report back on achieveing 45% greenhouse gas reductions by 2030, consistent with the IPCC report
Additionally, to demonstrate that the climate crisis acknowledgement is meaningful, here are my top five (5) actions that we must also take in the next year:
- Require that all future new greenfield development applications must be Net Zero. Not “Net Zero Ready”, which is code for putting the responsibility on the home owner. The biggest planning file currently in process is the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan (CMSP). We must accept no less than 100% Net Zero on this land. The OEG action plan says all new developments will be net zero. We must start now.
- Put climate crisis as the number one priority in our upcoming Strategic Plan. Then use the Strategic Plan to create a single comprehensive Climate Crisis Plan that will draw together all of the great policy work that has already been done (transit, parks, forestry, CEI, active transportation, fleet, corporate energy, etc.) and bring it under one big umbrella. And then fund it appropriately.
- Commit to budget funding to implement the Corporate 100% Renewables Energy Plan. Success is all about allocation of resources – how much and when – that will enable us to reach our goal before 2050. The 2020 budget process will be a test of how much we are willing to “put our money where our mouth is.” Keeping taxes low in the short term, and paying for climate crisis impacts down the road, is bad policy. We start budget deliberations in November.
- Fully fund the implementation of our Urban Forest Plan. The loss of canopy from Emerald Ash Borer has put us behind in our 40% canopy target. We must plant, plant, plant this year to yield the benefits of carbon sequestration over the next two decades as extreme weather escalates.
- Install EV charging stations across the city. The electrification of transportation (transit and personal vehicles) can be escalated once this critical infrastructure is in place. Alectra is a key partner.
If we can accomplish these five things in the next year, this will demonstrate the leadership our community is so desperately seeking.