By a near-unanimous vote, city council will join the United Nations Cities Race to Zero campaign, moving up the timeline for achieving emissions reduction targets and the pending setting of interim targets for each term of council.
“We’re honouring the will of this community to get going right away,” said Coun. James Gordon, who brought the motion forward with Coun. Leanne Caron.
“I want to keep setting targets separate from the budget process. They’re two very, very different things,” added Caron.
The motion declares support for the 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 C, 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 the “2040s or sooner, or by mid-century at the latest.”
Prior to the vote, council heard from numerous delegates – many in high school or university – who expressed concerns for their future and questioned whether it’s appropriate to bring children into a world experiencing extreme climate change.
“I’m terrified what this planet will look like,” said 17-year-old Thomas McIlwraith, listing off the potential for more flooding, soil erosion, rising temperatures and decreased food production, among other things. “Climate change isn’t even about the future anymore, it’s right now.”
“We can’t negotiate with Mother Nature,” noted Tanya Gevaert. “The idea of how much it’s going to cost is a moot point at this time. Nothing is going to be affordable if we don’t adequately address the health of our planet in a timely manner, and that means now.”
Having clear targets and potential projects in place will help when it comes to securing grants from upper-tier levels of government, stated Mayor Cam Guthrie.
“Without that plan and that documentation, it’s difficult for me to sit across the table and say ‘this is our plan, we want to meet these targets, could you help us with these projects?’”
The bulk of the motion was approved in a 12-1 vote, with Coun. Mark MacKinnon the sole member in opposition. That opposition stems from the belief the motion is redundant, as council has already approved much of it in various forms through the years.
However, MacKinnon joined with his council colleagues in approving the concept of four-year interim goals, meaning that aspect received unanimous endorsement. That aspect, city staff confirmed, is completely new.
City staff was instructed to bring forward a report with recommendations for targets in Q2 of next year, though a plan to achieve those targets isn’t expected until ahead of the 2023 budget being set, which is likely in early 2023 due to next fall's municipal election.
“It doesn’t change what we’re doing in 2022,” said deputy CAO Jayne Holmes, noting previously approved work aimed to helping the city meet its environmental goals will go ahead.
Coun. Dan Gibson said he initially planned to bring forward an amendment, though he chose not to do so. The specific amendment wasn’t mentioned during the meeting, but he proposed one at the committee meeting that would have seen projects move forward within the existing 10-year capital budget forecast.
That committee amendment failed 9-4.
“This is ambition with very little backup … on how we’re going to achieve it,” he said. “We simply cannot tax our way to climate neutrality.”
In response to a question from Coun. Christine Billings, Holmes explained one of the options to be brought forward to council will be to stay within that budget forecast and what projects would need to be pushed out while others are moved up.
A proposed amendment from MacKinnon sought to push off the setting of targets from Q2 next year until the 2023 budget discussions failed in an 11-2 vote, with support only from Billings.
“Our staff is already doing really good work,” Guthrie said of meeting environmental commitments.
Earlier this month city staff noted they’re not starting from zero on this effort, as many projects have already been initiated, completed, planned or are underway to help meet the city’s environmental targets.
Among them are upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, the bus electrification pilot project and electric Zambonis 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.