In a nearly unanimous vote, city council reaffirmed its commitment to fighting climate change, while moving up the city’s timeline for becoming net zero and agreeing to set interim four-year targets.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” said Evan Ferrari, executive director of eMERGE Guelph Sustainability, which has been lobbying for the change during the past year, with specific emphasis on setting targets for each term of council.
“If politicians have those targets, they’re going to push it on all of us as well because we all need to be part of the solution,” he added. “It puts it front and centre for us.”
The motion, approved by council’s committee of the whole, declares support for the United Nation’s Cities Race to Zero campaign, puts climate action “at the centre of all urban decision-making,” acknowledges the global climate crisis and commits the city to do it’s part to help keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as urged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It also adjusts council’s 2019 commitment of powering municipal facilities and vehicle fleet with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 to “2040s or sooner, or by mid-century at the latest.”
“It’s not too bold. It’s not too fast,” said Coun. Leanne Caron, who seconded the motion put forward by Coun. James Gordon. “We have a moral imperative.”
Ahead of the vote, council heard from 14 delegates who urged it to approve the motion and step up climate change efforts.
“We absolutely cannot wait to take action,” said Kate Nixon, who described herself as a “concerned and scared youth,” adding, “We owe it to each other and future generations.”
Numerous delegates pointed to the heavy cost of flooding, record high temperatures and wildfires on municipal infrastructure throughout the county in the past year.
“Our current path is robbing our descendants of their future,” commented Elizabeth Snell of KAIROS Guelph, a social and environmental justice organization. “An ounce of prevention now will save many pounds.”
While supportive of the motion in general, Coun. Dan Gibson proposed an amendment that would have seen council hold off on committing to the new net zero timeline until there is a plan in place.
“While the ambition is good … I need to see that data to make sure it’s achievable,” he said.
That amendment failed 9-4, with Gibson receiving support from councillors Christine Billings, Mark MacKinnon and Rodrigo Goller.
A staff report outlining the timing of projects is expected next year, ahead of the 2023 city budget.
“We’re not starting from scratch,” commented Mayor Cam Guthrie, pointing to environmental awards the city has received for its various efforts and commitments to-date.
City efforts include projects “big and small,” noted Bryan Ho-Yan, the city’s manager of energy and climate change.
Among them are upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, the bus electrification pilot project and electric ice resurfacers at arenas, to name a few. It also includes things such as environmental sustainability features at the planned South End Community Centre and new central library.
In order for the motion to be official, it requires ratification by council – something that’s set to be considered on Dec. 20.
Coun. Mark MacKinnon voted against the bulk of the motion but threw his support behind a separated clause that will see four-year interim climate change targets set – resulting in one per term of council – with the first to be established by mid-2022.
“I believe that council has a critical role in passing concise, precise, efficient, effective and non-repetitive and non-redundant motions. I do not believe that these motions rise to that criteria,” he said. “I believe in the intent of the motions but I cannot support a majority of these motions as they are written.”