In a rare unanimous vote on a contentious issue, Greater Sudbury city council voted 13-0 on Tuesday to declare a climate emergency.
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh, who moved the motion, presented a petition signed by thousands of adults and hundreds of children in support of the declaration.
Many of them were in council chambers, with dozens of other supporters forced to sit in chairs set up outside to handle the overflow crowd.
“Children are asking adults to do something,” McIntosh said. “The number of people here tonight is a true reflection of how important this issue is.”
The city has made some progress already, she said, such as using electric cars, solar panels, water protection measures and landfill reforms. In addition to helping the environment, McIntosh said fighting climate change saves taxpayers money in the long run, with insurance costs already rising because of extreme weather leading to a surge in claims.
Her motion, seconded by Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer, would have city staff prepare a report before the end of the year outlining a plan on how to minimize the city's carbon footprint, with a goal of getting to zero by 2050.
McCausland said climate change is a global issue that is felt most acutely at the local level. Now is the time to act.
“The world is changing faster than we'll be ready for,” he said. “This might not be the easiest course of action, but it is the right one.”
Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo said the motion would put a new lense on all the decisions councillors make moving forward.
“The reason the seats are full behind us is because ... a climate emergency is bigger than any of us sitting at the table,” Jakubo said. “We've seen more snow this past winter than ever before. We are seeing flooding in our city that we've never seen before.”
Averting a crisis is possible, he said, something Sudburians know through our own efforts to improve the local environment.
“We've done it already,” he said. “The regreening we have done ... is an example to the world. We did that, and we can do this as well.”
Mayor Brian Bigger said people his age grew up surrounded by “a devastated environment,” but one that has since been transformed.
“We can clean our lakes,” Bigger said. “We can fix the land. We can do things have have significant positive impact on our environment. There is hope for the future.”
While voting in favour of the motion, Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini suggested it was hypocritical to go ahead with the Junction and the Kingsway Entertainment District, which will pollute the environment during the construction and afterwards.
“Will we be considering these projects in the motion?” Vagnini asked.
McIntosh said the new buildings will be green buildings, and will reduce the city's impact on the environment.
“There are a lot of technologies now to reduce the carbon footprint,” she said.
And Bigger said Sudbury Arena was built at a time when the environment wasn't a consideration.
“A 70-year old arena is not as efficient as a new state-of the art arena,” he said.
With the vote, Greater Sudbury joins hundreds of Canadian cities, as well as communities across the world, to make a similar declaration. The movement began in Australia three years ago and has since gained traction across the globe.
You can read the full motion here, but other elements include:
- Policy choices that increase the proportion of residents that can choose active transportation modes or public transit for their daily needs;
- Operating standards for municipal facilities and technical specifications for municipal construction contracts that reduce carbon pollution;
- The development of measurement and reporting systems for energy utilization and carbon reduction to inform policy and budgeting choices;
- The potential to create an advisory committee that provides guidance and support for the city’s efforts to respond to the climate emergency; and,
- A business case for consideration as part of the 2020 budget that secures the resources required to develop the plan.