Calgary city council voted 13-2 to declare a climate emergency on Monday night, with only Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu and Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean opposed.
The notice of motion was initially brought forward by Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal, and calls for the city to take action on climate change through various initiatives that will help limit global warming.
It includes calls for the city to accelerate its emissions reduction targets to net zero by 2050, collaborate and engage with First Nations communities to ensure intersectional climate change strategies, and develop a carbon budget to guide future council decisions.
“People who think it’s a war against our oil and gas … it’s not about that. It’s about how we produce, and how we consume our hydrocarbons, and supporting our oil and gas or energy sector,” Dhaliwal said.
“And on top of that, we also have an opportunity to bring this monumental and transformative change.”
The city is working to determine what costs will be associated with the motion, and aims to bring them back to council by early January.
Many Canadian cities have already declared a climate emergency, including Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek says she is pleased that council is backing an idea which already has widespread support in Canada and internationally.
However, she says it also places council firmly behind much of Alberta’s energy industry, which is committed to cutting emissions.
“As a municipal government, we are sometimes not as engaged on issues that have to do with the energy sector. And I think it’s just by virtue of the fact that the federal and provincial governments have a lot more regulatory capacity,” Gondek said at a breakfast with energy industry executives ahead of the council vote on Monday.
“And so we are just starting out building this new relationship, and everyone’s pretty excited about it.”
Declaration can’t just be symbolic, advocates say
Chu, who voted to reject the motion, asked councillors to explain net zero and stated that Albertans need oil and gas to heat their homes during winter.
Some other members of council — like Ward 1’s Sonya Sharp — weren’t entirely convinced “emergency” was the right word, but after hearing the word is part of a global movement, chose to support the motion.
However, advocates and experts say a climate emergency declaration must be followed by measurable actions to ensure the move isn’t just a symbolic gesture — and they say cities can pull a lot of levers to reduce carbon emissions.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says cities account for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, through transportation and the energy used to heat, cool and light homes and buildings.
“The statement itself isn’t going to change anything, but it does showcase a priority,” Brendan Boyd, an assistant professor in the department of anthropology, economics and political science at MacEwan University in Edmonton, told CBC News earlier this month.
“I wouldn’t say necessarily that, you know, you declare an emergency and all of a sudden everything changes and this is now a totally new world. But it’s part of the long process of building political support for taking action that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
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