You may have heard that the City of Hamilton has delared a “climate emergency”. The decision was made at the March 18th meeting of the Board of Health (of which all councillors are members) and ratified two days later, unanimously, at City Council. Hamilton is the second Ontarian municipality to declare a climate emergency–joining other cities like Halifax, Vancouver, Kingston, and many many more in Quebec.
You may be wondering what a climate emergency means. As one of the presenters who asked the city to make this declaration, I will try to explain it in a way that will motivate you to respond.
The Board of Health’s motion has several components and consequences that fall into three main parts. The first is the symbolic (but important) act of the declaration of the climate emergency. The second is what the City of Hamilton will be doing differently. The third part, far from guaranteed, is broad collective action taken by all Hamiltonians to respond to the emergency.
That the City of Hamilton declare a climate emergency that threatens our city, region, province, nation, civilization, humanity and the natural world.
The symbolic part of the motion–which oddly enough generated the most debate among councillors–reads: “That the City of Hamilton declare a climate emergency that threatens our city, region, province, nation, civilization, humanity and the natural world”.
This is an important step for our city council to take. It expresses an understanding of the dire situation we’re in, and the need to act. This communication to Hamiltonians is vital. Our city can do much to tackle climate change, but the first step is to make it clear to the public that our council takes this issue seriously. This declaration sends a clear message not only to residents but also to businesses, investors and–most importantly–other levels of government. Hamilton is going to reprioritise and renew its commitment to climate action in light of the scientific consensus presented through the 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report: We are not doing enough to protect our children and future generations.
Now let’s look at the second part, the specific new actions the city will be taking. I presented to council on behalf of the advocacy group Environment Hamilton. We wanted to be clear that we recognise and value the action the city has already undertaken, but now we need to ramp it up. The motion does contain resolutions that do exactly this. Here is a quick summary:
The city will convene a multi-departmental “Climate Change Task Force” that will identify new ways to ensure net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 under the leadership of the City Manager.
The Task Force will identify gaps in action, develop communication, and provide new ways for Hamilton to both report and measure climate actions. In other words, the motion dictates that climate change is a major priority across all city departments, and that all departments must set goals and work cohesively to ensure the City of Hamilton does it’s part to avoid climate catastrophe.
So we have a declaration and some initial steps. Obviously this is all very good. But what about the third part, the need for collective action by all of us?
To ensure we weather the storm (literally and metaphorically) of climate change will require massive change. We will need to completely overhaul how we grow as a city, transport ourselves, construct our buildings, and much more. Some of these changes may be met with resistance by our neighbours who do not yet fully understand how rapidly our world is changing. It is up to all of us to support this call to action. We must talk with our friends and neighbours, begin changing how we go about our daily activities and, most importantly, keep our council dedicated and on-track. Councillors must follow through with all necessary decisions to ensure we meet our collective greenhouse gas emission goals.
We have to work together to make the transition to a sustainable city, not only to ensure our continued existence, but also to build a resilient community able to handle whatever the future has in store for us.