CRD Board declares Climate Emergency

Local News

A Tweet-cap of the CRD Board meeting’s key moments

Photo by Carina Pogoler, Senior Editorial Assistant.

On Feb. 13, the CRD Board of Directors unanimously passed a motion to declare a Climate Emergency. The CRD Board are a conglomeration of mayors, councillors, and directors of the 13 municipalities and three electoral districts that make up the capital regional district.

Vancouver was the first Canadian city to make this declaration on Jan. 16, followed by Halifax on Jan. 29.

The motion was put forward by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Saanich Councilor (and the CRD’s youngest director) Ned Taylor, and Mayor of Sooke, Maja Tait. Although the motion is called “Climate Emergency Declaration,” it calls for the CRD Board to do much more than simply declare a Climate Emergency. The motion also calls on the capital regional district to work towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and to lobby various senior government officials at provincial and federal levels to support their efforts and follow suit themselves.

As reported by the Times Colonist, Helps, Taylor, and Tait presented this motion to the CRD Parks and Environment Committee meeting on Jan. 23 where it also passed unanimously.

There has been significant public support for this motion. 21 constituents presented in favour of the motion at the Parks and Environment Committee meeting on Jan. 23, while 25 did so at the CRD Board meeting on Feb 13.

Presenters at the Feb. 13 meeting varied in age from not-yet teenagers to well past retirement. Although their language was different, their message was the same:

After nearly two hours of presentations, Board members turned to discussing the motion itself. Clauses number one through four and seven were discussed and voted on together. Those were:

1. That the Capital Regional District Board declare a Climate Emergency;

2. That the CRD take a leadership role to work towards achieving carbon neutrality in the region by 2030;

3. That the Board Chair write to all local governments in the region requesting that they also declare climate emergencies and commit to working towards climate neutrality by 2030;

4. That staff be directed to submit a Letter of Intent for the $1 million Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions Theme Partnership Program by the deadline of February 15 2019, to address the question: ‘How can the Capital Region achieve carbon neutrality by 2030?’

7. That staff be directed to report back to the committee on specific actions and resources that could be included in future correspondence to senior levels of government.

Helps and Taylor, two of the motions’ proponents, started off the discussion.

Meanwhile, Director for the Salt Spring Island Electoral Area Gary Holman, Mayor of North Saanich Geoff Orr, and Victoria Councillor Geoff Young raised concerns about language and its implications in the motion. 

Young’s hesitation stemmed from the definition of the term ‘carbon neutrality’ in the second clause, and the implications such a promise would create for the capital regional district.

Young asked, “If an emergency means you take action immediately, are we really saying that none of us is ever going to step on an airplane again, until we have electric airplanes?”

Helps responded, “If we don’t have an aspiration, we’re never going to get anywhere,” adding that “Norway is already testing electric planes.”

Orr maintained that he was in support of the motion, despite certain concerns.

“We need to be careful … that we don’t start calling everything that we deal with a crisis.” said Orr.

“In a way, that also waters down the housing crisis … Now we’ve got a financial crisis. Pretty soon we’re putting everything up at the same level, and within that we have to decide for ourselves how we prioritize.”

“I’m not entirely convinced myself the connection to reducing our emissions significantly enough to bring about a change in global climate.”

In spite of his concerns, Orr maintained he would be voting in favour of the motion.

“I’m feeling a little uncomfortable but I do support the will of the Board, and I think in general a vote against would probably be … posturing, so I will support but I am cautious as a Board member,” he said.

Following Orr’s statements, Holman advocated for an emphasis to be placed on adaptation, and not just mitigation.

“We could significantly reduce our emissions, and we’re still likely to be faced with having to adapt to climate change,” said Holman.

Holman asked the Board for clarification on what ‘carbon neutrality’ means: does it take into account the carbon-sequestering forests that offset B.C.’s emissions, or does it mean reducing all emissions completely to zero?

According to Helps’ definition, the offsetting effects of B.C.’s carbon-sequestering forests will not be included in emissions calculations.

“Carbon neutral means no carbon. Neutral is zero, zero is neutral … I can’t define it any more clearly than that,” said Helps.

Before moving to vote, Helps had a few more words for her fellow Board members.

“I don’t think [this motion] is that bold, now we’re behind Vancouver and Halifax and others,” she said.

Indeed, according to climateemergencydeclaration.org, 297 local government bodies in countries across the world including Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have declared a Climate Emergency.

“Even though we’re small in the global world, we need to … do the little bit that we can,” said Helps.

Colin Plant, Saanich Councillor and CRD Chair, then called for the vote, and clauses one through four and seven were approved unanimously with no amendments.

Clauses number five and six were passed with amendments that were proposed by Saanich Councillor Rebecca Mersereau.

Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt was the only Board member who did not support the amendment.

“Language around [adaption] could provide an out for the province and the feds to not actually rise to the challenge of mitigation and shifting away from fossil fuels immediately,” said Isitt. “For that reason I would rather have the original motion with its clear position.”

Mayor of Oak Bay Kevin Murdoch disagreed.

“No matter how ideologically pure we want to be … we have a lot of adaptation to deal with, and we need funds from [the federal government] and support from the provincial government, so [adaptation and mitigation] both have to be there,” said Murdoch.

What’s all this debate around mitigation and adaptation? Both are different ways of responding to climate change.

According to NASA, mitigation refers to “reducing and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” while adaptation means “adapting to the climate change already in the pipeline.”

Experts usually advocate some measure of both, although mitigation is a more long-term tactic.

David Screech, Mayor of View Royal and Vice Chair of the Capital Regional Housing Corporation, agreed with Director Murdoch.

“Even if we were [successful] in having the entire province of British Columbia become carbon neutral by 2030, we’d still need adaptation efforts,” said Screech.

John Ranns, Mayor of Metchosin, was concerned that declaring a Climate Emergency could unfairly impact municipalities with less population density, like his own.

“We really are concerned that we don’t get nailed with urban abatement measures without recognition of the fact that we’re the ones that are maintaining the carbon sinks,” said Ranns. “We should be looking at protecting and recognizing the value of the carbon sinks in this region.”

In spite of discussion and concerns raised, clauses five and six of the motion with the amendments were unanimously voted in, and the motion in its entirety was carried.

When asked how he felt about the decision, Taylor called it a “best-case scenario,” and said he was hopeful that the municipalities would be on board as well.

“That’s really the value of this for me, is that we have the chance to really bring the region together to collaborate and work towards a common goal.”

Each municipality will decide independently if they want to join the CRD’s efforts.

The Board room on the sixth floor of the CRD Headquarters, just off Centennial Square, has a breathtaking view of the Gorge waterway, Mount P’Kols, and the observatory in the background.

A mixture of triumph, satisfaction, disagreement, and uncertainty was felt in the boardroom as the Martlet packed up and left.  

As Mayor Helps wrote on her website before bringing the motion to the CRD Parks and Environment Committee, “Making climate emergency declarations is easy. Taking climate action is hard.”

The discussion and debate on this motion show that declaring the Climate Emergency is just the first step, and that carrying it through will be difficult. However, as Plant said, “Nothing worth doing comes easy.”