On Wednesday, April 24th, City Council passed a resolution declaring Climate Emergency in Ottawa, and in doing so joined numerous other Canadian municipalities in committing to climate action in our community with renewed vigour and determination. Though the motion wasn’t passed unanimously, as was the case in other municipalities (Ottawa’s motion was opposed by three councillors) this resolution signals a shift in city council: from an era of slow-footed movement on climate, to one of rapid, rigorous change for the better. A new era heralded by this motion, the upcoming release of Energy Evolution Phase 2, and the development of a climate resiliency plan, will be one in which we begin to tackle climate change with the kind of scale and attention the crisis truly requires.
There are five main aspects of the resolution that we at Ecology Ottawa are really enthusiastic about because the climate emergency declaration is not purely symbolic. These five critical elements (as we see them) are as follows:
- It fast-tracks work on renewable energy and energy conservation programs, as well as technical analysis. This comes at a cost of $250,000, which is $100,000 more than the City spent on its flagship Energy Evolution program in the last municipal budget.
- It incorporates an “equity and inclusion” lens into climate planning. For the first time, Ottawa will now need to think proactively about how our most vulnerable residents are impacted by climate change.
- It calls on the city to incorporate climate change as a Term of Council Priority. Over the next few months, council will debate its policy priorities for the duration of its term. It is critical that climate change be included as a major priority, and that concrete policy measures and funding flow from this prioritization.
- It calls on the city to issue a climate resiliency strategy. A resilience plan, where Ottawa outlines how it will cope with climate impacts and risks, is something the city has been promising since at least 2011. One more push to get this strategy out the door is welcome and useful.
- It calls on the city to analyze how our municipal emissions reduction targets line up with IPCC requirements for limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Currently, Ottawa’s emission targets are based on provincial targets rather than on scientific evidence. It’s highly likely that the findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will require us to act more urgently and ambitiously.
The above are the highlights of the resolution: the overall themes, and those few things that we really take heart, and find meaning in when we study the declaration. If you’re eager to learn a bit more about the resolution and really “dig into the weeds” with us, keep reading, because we’re here to break down the resolution for you. Over the following paragraphs, we’ll take you through each of the motion’s 8 points, and hopefully provide you with a deeper understanding of the city’s undertaking with their declaration of “climate emergency.”
We’ve chosen to leave the preamble, or “Background” and “Whereas” sections of the resolution out of our review, as they don’t really require much explanation. What you can read below is a clause-by-clause dissection of the implications of the resolution, made easy to understand, and wrap your brain around.
Each clause, lifted directly from the text, is in a box, and is followed by a paragraph of explanation.
First off, it should be noted that the use of the term “emergency” in this first point does not mean that passing of this motion puts into effect a “state of emergency” in the formal sense. Instead, use of the term “emergency” is intended, like the above text says “for the purposes of naming, framing, and deepening our commitment”. This differs from a formal state of emergency like that declared by Mayor Watson on April 25th, 2019 which put into effect emergency measures and funding in order to rapidly take action to prevent and mitigate flood damage along the Ottawa River.
A Council Sponsors’ Group is an ad-hoc committee comprised of councillors sitting on a variety of official city committees (like the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management which approved the climate emergency motion before it went to Council.) In this Council Sponsors Group, these councillors, representing a wide array of municipal concerns, will gather to informally discuss how to embed a climate change lens in decisions that are made by Committees which wouldn’t otherwise consider environment and climate.
- An analysis of how the AQCCMP’s long term target to reduce GHG emissions 80% below 2012 levels by 2050 compares to the IPCC’s targets for limiting global warming to 1.5 ºC
- Midterm (2030) corporate and community GHG emission reduction targets
- Climate Change mitigation and adaptation priorities for next five years (2019-2024) to embed climate change considerations across all elements of City business;
Last updated in 2014, the AQCCMP is Ottawa’s Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan: a lengthy document that aims to lay out a framework for climate mitigation and adaptation over the next 20 years in the city of Ottawa. The document is being revisited this year, and with the passing of this motion (specifically the above points), the city has committed to including in the 2019 review a comparison with how our greenhouse gas reduction targets compare with those laid out by the UN IPCC* recent report on 1.5C. It was in this report (issued last November) that we found out that in order to limit warming to 1.5C and keep the planet (mostly) liveable, we’ll have to reduce our emissions by as much as 107% by 2050, and get on that pathway within the next 12 years. The above points also commit city staff to developing “midpoint targets” for both the City of Ottawa’s emissions, as well as our community emissions- allowing us to see where we’ll have to be by 2030 if we’re going to hit our current reduction targets of 80% reductions by 2050. The third point above is exciting because it’s requiring the city to consider mitigation and adaptation measures in all city business, taking care to develop priority actions for the next five years.
*UN IPCC= United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Status update of Energy Evolution Phase 1 actions
- New concrete actions and resource implications (staff and financial) to achieve GHG emission reduction targets
- Use an equity and inclusion lens in the prioritization of actions
- Funding and savings options for the City when implementing emission reductions;
Energy Evolution is the City of Ottawa’s renewable energy strategy: designed to help the city manage energy consumption, and promote renewable energy. Initially received by council in 2017, “Phase 2” of the strategy is being released at the end of 2019. With the motion passing, City staff will have to ensure future Energy Evolution documentation will include progress updates on any actions proposed by Energy Evolution Phase 1, and develop new innovations to reduce our citywide greenhouse gas reduction target of 80% by 2050. This clause also includes language about “equity and inclusion” as it pertains to climate change- something we don’t always see from the City, and something that is a very welcome and very necessary addition. We know that the effects of climate change are felt most acutely by marginalized peoples, lower income communities, children, and the elderly. We’re excited to see that the city is taking seriously the fact that it’s those vulnerable people who must be protected and prioritized in any environment and climate policy.
Simply put: They city needs to plan for money it makes by investing in energy efficiency measures and renewable energy (Hydro Ottawa Dividends Surplus) to be dedicated and diverted toward greenhouse gas reduction measures that will take us beyond the scope of our current reduction target of 80% by 2050.
Development of a climate adaptation plan or “resiliency strategy” is something that was actually Mandated by AQCCMP back in 2011, but as of today, has yet to surface. We’re excited that the City of Ottawa is finally beginning to get this particular show on the road, as we are already beginning to feel the effects of climate change within our city. Last years’ intense heat waves and tornado, and the flooding we’re currently experiencing, are evidence to the need for a climate resiliency strategy for our community– to ensure that we know what to expect in coming decades, and that we’re prepared for dealing with potential disaster.
In past years, council has devoted funding and resources towards those few issues it deems to be Term of Council “Strategic Priorities” (usually about 8 main priorities are set per term.) With this point in the motion we’re hoping to see an as-of-yet unprecedented amount of funding and resource allocation go towards climate change issues and solutions.
This final piece of the motion, though it might look like nothing more than flowery language, is actually of importance in setting the tone for climate action from the City going forward. Within this one sentence it’s made clear that Council stand up to provincial and federal governments, demanding stronger climate action, and support from them. So much of what we do at a municipal level is determined by funding we receive from senior levels of government, and it is only if we have their financial support that we’ll succeed in our ambitions.
The City of Ottawa’s Climate Emergency Motion is by no means the be-all-and-end-all of they City’s municipal climate policy. In so many ways it is only the beginning– the tip of the municipal climate policy iceberg, but still, it has such potential for impact. Cities in Canada are responsible for approximately 50% of all emissions across the country. If Ottawa, and other cities like it who have declared Climate Emergency live up to the responsibilities they lay out in motions like the one passed by our Council on the 24th, we have a very real chance of building the sort of healthy, vibrant, adaptive, and resilient city that we’ll need if we’re to weather the many storms we have yet to face. This past week has made us confident in the City’s commitment, and even more confident in the peoples’ commitment: after all, none of this would have happened without the voices of thousands of Ottawans coming together to demand this action of our representatives. We hope you draw as much strength from this motion being passed as we do, Ottawa, and that with this change, you feel empowered to take further action to defend our community, and to defend our climate.