The United Nations has made it clear – we now have 11 years to avoid catastrophic impacts to the world’s species and ecosystems. The effects are already being felt in Ottawa: record floods in 2017; tornado impacts in late 2018; summers of extreme and deadly heat; and winters with erratic freeze-thaw cycles. Momentum is building among cities like Vancouver, Halifax, Kingston and Hamilton to urgently respond to this moment of crisis and build a better city, and Ottawa has the opportunity to lead. We are calling on the City of Ottawa to declare climate emergency now.
The City of Ottawa has not yet responded adequately to the scope and scale of the climate crisis. We have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Energy Evolution, but this has been delayed and underfunded. We have set a greenhouse gas emission target, but have not regularly reported on our emissions. We have not produced a long-promised climate resilience plan despite tremendous damage from flooding, tornadoes, heat waves and other extreme weather events.
We are facing a climate emergency, and we need the City of Ottawa to treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves. On April 16, councillor Shawn Menard will table a motion to the Environment Committee declaring a Climate Emergency and proposing bold actions to safeguard Ottawa’s neighbourhoods and ecosystems. This is our moment to demand bolder commitment and stronger action.
Are we in an emergency?
It’s a global emergency
In October 2018, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that we need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5 C, and prevent the worst damages of the climate crisis. These worst impacts put over 150 million lives globally at stake as coastal cities disappear due to sea level rise, extreme weather events like hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, wildfires become more extreme and erratic, and resource scarcity causes wars, conflicts and mass migration.
Canada is in no way exempt from these catastrophes. In February 2019, five national health organizations in Canada issued a call to action to prevent catastrophic climate change. Doctors, nurses, medical officers of health and public health professionals called climate change “the greatest health threat of the 21st century”, and called on all Canadian major parties to make meaningful climate action a key platform.
It’s an emergency in Ottawa
And climate change is happening, right here in Ottawa. As we have witnessed from record floods in 2017; tornado impacts in late 2018; summers of extreme and deadly heat; and winters with erratic freeze-thaw cycles, each of these events are an emergency, and they will only exacerbate if we fail to act. Ottawa’s average temperature is expected to rise 3.2 C by mid century under a business-as-usual scenario. Along with longer summer, we will also witness more frequent and deadly heatwaves, more regular crop failures, increased flooding, algal blooms on our lakes and rivers and declining forests.
Meanwhile, momentum is building across municipalities in Canada and the world to tackle the climate crisis and build a better city. Vancouver, Halifax, Kingston and Hamilton have recently declared climate emergencies, alongside nearly 250 municipalities in Quebec. All of these cities know that as we work to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our cities, we can also build more climate resilient communities, take good care of the most vulnerable residents who suffer the worst impacts of climate change, and change the way we build our city for the better.
What does a climate emergency declaration mean?
The (draft) motion coming to the Environment Committee in Ottawa is seeking to:
- Officially declare a climate emergency for the purposes of naming, framing, and deepening our commitment to protecting our economy, our ecosystems, and our community from climate change;
- Recognize climate change as a strategic priority in the City’s strategic plan and accompanying budget directions for the remaining Term of Council;
- Establish a Council Sponsors Group comprised of the Chairs of the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management, Planning Committee, Transportation Committee, Transit Commission and the Councilor Liaison of Environment Stewardship Advisory Committee;
- Analyze the GHG targets from the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan and how they measure to the IPCC targets to limit warming to 1.5C;
- Implement the actions from the Energy Evolution Final Report with an equity and inclusion lens
- Report back in 90 days how to spend they Hydro Ottawa Dividends Surplus to reduce GHG emissions;
- Complete a vulnerability assessment and Climate Resilience Strategy;
- Work with senior levels of government to accelerate ambition and action to reduce GHG emissions and build resiliency.
The full Climate Emergency Motion is available here.