Calgary committee endorses climate emergency declaration

The City of Calgary is one step closer to declaring a climate emergency after a unanimous vote by a city committee on Tuesday. As Adam MacVicar reports, council hopes the symbolic gesture will open up more investment opportunities.

An effort to declare a climate emergency in Calgary cleared its first hurdle Tuesday.

Meeting for the first time this term, the city’s executive committee voted unanimously to have the notice of motion debated at council as a whole, including a final vote.

The notice of motion from Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal calls for the City of Calgary to declare a climate emergency and adjust the city’s emissions reduction targets to net-zero by 2050. The current goal within the City of Calgary is to reduce 80 per cent of 2005 emissions in the same timeframe.

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According to experts, that is the base target around the globe to limit warming of the climate to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek helped the novice councillor write the notice of motion and a number of other councillors, including Ward 9’s Gian-Carlo Carra and Ward 12’s Evan Spencer, were among those named co-signatories to the declaration.

Dhaliwal, who worked in the energy sector prior to running for public office, said climate change was an issue he heard about during the campaign following the hailstorm in the city’s northeast, with many of his constituents still waiting for repairs following the billion-dollar hailstorm in 2020. Dhaliwal said he heard “one simple question” while campaigning.

“Why isn’t city doing more on climate change? Why are we kicking the can down the street?” Dhaliwal told the committee. “My kids or their kids, they don’t want to see this again in their lifetime.”

“They were telling me they want to see robust plans that will protect not only us but future generations and make the city more resilient in a way.”

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Calgary and Alberta have been subject to at least six of the top 10 most-costly years on record from severe weather. The 2020 hailstorm resulted in more than $! billion in insured damages.

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The climate emergency declaration aims to make climate change “a strategic priority” and calls on administration to develop strategic business plans and budgets across each city department to invest in and implement emissions-reduction and climate risk-reduction projects.

Proponents said the declaration would unlock opportunities for investment dollars to come into the city.

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“There are numerous business advantages. There are investment opportunities that we are missing out on,” Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong said. “The entrepreneurial spirit here in Calgary will take this and run with it. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Demong added investment drawn to Calgary as a result of the declaration could help lift the city from a pandemic-induced recession.

“What it does is it helps position the City of Calgary in terms of the language of the globe,” head of Alberta Eco Trust Climate Fund Mike Mellross told Global News.

“The rest of the globe is very interested in low-carbon solutions and transitioning the economy to low-carbon pathways.

“A climate emergency helps to signal that to various entities that might want to invest in Calgary and that actually can help attract talent.”

Skepticism shows

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot hoped to move some of the language in the motion to make net zero a goal rather than an active process. Dick Ebersohn, the city manager leading climate change and environment policy planning, said the language in the motion is standard across worldwide cities who have also declared climate emergencies.

Chabot challenged the idea of human-induced climate change, citing “different presentations” he’s listened to.

“There’s been some that would suggest that the rise in the earth’s temperature actually preceded the rise in the CO2 levels,” Chabot said.

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Gondek quickly noted that Chabot should hold his debate until the Nov. 15 city council meeting, as Tuesday’s committee meeting was more a matter of technical review of the proposed motion.

Amendments to the notice of motion also call for the implementation of a carbon budget as well as advocacy for funding to reduce climate risk to public infrastructure including upstream flood and drought mitigation on the Bow River.

It also calls for the City of Calgary to work with civic partners and subsidiaries to get aligned with the net-zero-by-2050 target.

“When we start looking at our relationship with how we move around the city — whether it be transit, active mobility, accessibility lanes and so on — that’s one huge way of us changing our culture of convenience and our lifestyle to creating a future-friendly, climate-resilient city,” Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said.

“How we build, our land use, the strategies that we employ at a city level to create those changes are going to be some of the most impactful shifts that the city will have a hand in.”

According to Ebersohn, work is underway to provide Calgarians an incentive to retrofit their homes with more sustainable materials and energy sources like solar panels.

Ebersohn also told Global News a strategy is underway to transition the city’s fleet of vehicles to help towards emissions-reduction targets.

“Commercial and residential sectors are key sectors for us to intervene in,” Ebersohn said. “It’s the buildings and the transportation sector that are the key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s what we need to focus on.”

Reports into these initiatives and strategies are expected next year which will include more details as well as a better idea of costs for the city and taxpayers.

New time, new council

The federal government and the cities of Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal have all declared climate emergencies, most in 2019, leaving Calgary as a laggard.

Whether the past city councillors would have been as favourable of such a declaration was speculation Carra would not engage in on Tuesday.

But asked whether it was the current time the city is living in or the new members of council that led to the endorsement for the declaration of a climate emergency, the Ward 9 representative said “yes.”

“I suspect the climate emergency motion would not have passed in the last council, and I think that declaring a climate emergency is a declaration that we’re doing things differently and we are responding to the will of the electorate in terms of addressing the challenges facing our city right now,” Carra said.

Demong — one of four returning members of council — was also unsure of whether city council would have passed such a declaration before 2021.

“If it did, it would have been tight, but I try not to guess what council’s going to do or should, would have or should have done.”

The motion to declare a climate emergency in Calgary goes to the next meeting of city council on Nov. 15.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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