Halifax council voted on Tuesday to declare a climate emergency — a mostly symbolic acknowledgment that climate change is a serious and urgent threat.
The municipality is unlikely to receive additional funds from the provincial or federal governments as a result of the decision, but will use the declaration as an opportunity to stress that climate change is real, while considering how it might implement serious changes to the municipality’s climate change plan.
Richard Zurawski, councillor for Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park-Wedgewood and council’s resident champion for environmental issues, was the man who brought the motion to council.
He had asked that council direct staff to prepare a report that recognizes “the breakdown of the stable climate and sea levels… constitutes an emergency for HRM” and provides recommendations that would accelerate the municipality’s actions to meet — and even exceed — their climate change targets.
Zurawski will now get his wish after council unanimously passed a modified version of his request at Tuesday’s meeting of regional council.
The councillor, who has previously worked as a talk show host and meteorologist, said his motion was in response to a recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The report found that preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems, but offered little hope that the world would meet that challenge.
All members of council were open to Zurawski’s proposal with Lisa Blackburn, councillor for Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville, saying she didn’t think “anyone around the table” would disagree that Halifax is in the midst of a climate emergency.
“The municipal government has to deal with the problems,” Blackburn said.
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In order to let council know that “we don’t have much time” and highlight the seriousness of the issue, Zurawski had asked in his request that staff prepare a report in 90 days to respond to his concern.
The request for the report was ultimately changed once CAO Jacques Dubé said it would be hard for staff to meet the deadline.
Dubé added that staff are already hard at work on a climate change action plan, with a draft set to be ready sometime this fall.
“I suspect that right now, the winter of 2020 sometime, probably January, February of next year, we would then have a final target,” he said.
Instead, council voted to accept a timeline proposed by Deputy Mayor Tony Mancini that would give staff one year — rather than 90 days — to bring the report back to council.
Cities on both coasts have now declared a climate emergency, with Vancouver City Council unanimously voting to declare a climate emergency earlier this month.
Cities such as London and Los Angeles have also declared climate emergencies.
Zurawski, for his part, said he was “truly humbled” by council’s discussion on the topic and acceptance that climate change was a real and immediate challenge.