After declaring a Climate Emergency in early June, a testy exchange in a recent Central Saanich council meeting exposed divisions of how to respond to the crisis, and if the District even has the powers to make a dent.
On July 8, nine Climate Action recommendations were put forward – all but two passed. The successful motions called on the Capital Regional District, provincial and federal governments to assist Central Saanich meet its Climate Leadership Plan goals. The two that weren’t passed both related to actions Central Saanich could take, in short order. These were for the District to alter its Climate Leadership Plan, written in 2018, with a quicker timeline to reach its objectives, and for District staff to provide a report outlining the options, costs and implications of changing the target date of reaching carbon neutrality from 2050 to 2030. This is in response to The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report, which warns of wide-scale ecological disaster if global warming is not restricted to a 1.5C increase within the next 11 years.
During the meeting, the two motions failed, but after an exasperated plea from Coun. Zeb King, Mayor Ryan Windsor implemented a little-used power to put them back on the table at a later date. King was the lone voice calling for all options to be researched and costed, saying there was no obligation to act on the research, but having all information would help council make informed decisions.
His fellow councillors disagreed. Windsor didn’t articulate his view, but indicated he was happy for future discussion. Coun. Chris Graham said he wanted to wait and see what other municipalities do first and Coun. Niall Paltiel stayed silent. Coun. Gordon Newton said he understood the logic of exploring options but was concerned of “implications to our community and the tax payers.”
The timeline of the disagreement brooks a year. In August 2018, the Climate Leadership Plan was written, including a 2050 date for Central Saanich to achieve carbon neutrality. In March 2019, council voted against King’s request to declare a climate emergency. On May 27, student representatives from three local schools gave a compelling presentation about climate change. Council then performed a U-turn and unanimously agreed to declare a Climate Emergency. In the July 8 meeting, the motion for a report to be written outlining all options and costs wasn’t passed, but was brought back by Windsor for further discussion on July 22.
In an impassioned plea, King said, “If we don’t do this, it’s [desire for action on climate change] not going to go away. It’s not disappearing, it’s simply going to build. And the residents and students and other people will probably come back.”
After the meeting, Paltiel said he didn’t wish to see District staff directed away from other tasks and said he was cognizant of using tax payer dollars wisely.
“Just because we’ve declared a Climate Emergency after we adopted our Climate Action Plan in 2018, doesn’t mean those two things are separated, I think there are extremely aggressive targets in the Climate Action Plan, especially for the size of our municipality.”
Windsor says there are practical considerations to reflect on, “It’s the urgency versus the how,” he said, adding, “The Climate Emergency doesn’t grant any powers in of itself. It’s not like there’s something I can suddenly do different. Changes do need to be made in order for it to have substance and meaning behind it, and some of those changes may well be provincial.”
To Windsor, the two major sources of greenhouse gas emissions are buildings and transportation, and he feels work is already being done in those areas.
King thinks the self-proclaimed emergency and the UN’s 11-year deadline, necessitate looking at further options.
“At the very least we need to know what that would entail. The current Climate Leadership Plan is a step in the right direction, but according to the IPCC report it’s not sufficient, so we really need to look into what we can do, to make informed choices.”
The discussion can be watched at centralsaanich.ca.granicus.com.