Canada’s temperature is rising at twice the rate of most countries — and cities like ours are partly to blame, Coun. Berry Vrbanovic told regional council on Oct. 9, before forwarding a motion to declare a climate emergency.
After a brief debate, the motion was adopted unanimously.
“Part of this is about creating a global movement,” Vrbanovic said in an interview.
“The way we will tackle this is coming together as a society.”
Waterloo Region joins over 460 municipalities in Canada that have made similar statements. Locally, Kitchener, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich have done so.
The motion asks the region to continue to support climate action and improve emissions targets.
Coun. Tom Galloway said during discussion of the motion that the region now needs to focus on moving forward.
“It’s not the resolutions that get anything done,” he said.
Climate advocates pleased with declaration
“This is public acknowledgement of what we’re all living through,” said Kai Reimer-Watts, a Wilfrid Laurier PhD student and graduate of the Masters of Climate Change program at the University of Waterloo.
Before the motion went to vote, he and Andres Fuentes, a Kitchener resident and fellow Masters of Climate Change graduate, gave a presentation to council advocating for the climate emergency declaration.
The pair displayed recent headlines on screens around the chamber: The Amazon is burning. The Arctic is melting. Major flooding in Waterloo.
They showed statistics from major research groups confirming the acceleration of climate change, and spoke of an urgent need to act.
They also played clips from the Sept. 27 climate strike at Waterloo Town Square, where 4,500 people attended.
“For our political representatives to act boldly, they need to be able to see that the public is there to back them up and to push actions further. We’re here to say ‘Yes we are,’” said Reimer-Watts.
Region may implement carbon budget
The motion calls for staff to work with Climate Action Waterloo Region to investigate different ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the only specific measure mentioned is the possible implementation of a carbon budget.
“It would treat emissions as we treat money in the budget process,” explained Fuentes. “Just like everything in the region has a financial cost, it also has emissions costs that need to be measured and accounted for in order to begin reducing it.”
A carbon budget could be implemented as early as 2022, depending on the results of an investigation into its viability.
Current emissions target likely not in line with Paris Agreement
Currently, Waterloo Region has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent of 2010 levels by 2050.
This almost mirrors the federal government’s long-term goal of keeping emissions to 80 per cent of 2005 levels by 2050 — a voluntary pledge Canada made when it signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, which says signatories must do what is necessary to keep warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
But the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations-backed research group, suggests Canada’s targets, and therefore Waterloo Region’s, would not keep warming well under 2 C.
“Limiting warming to 1.5°C implies reaching net-zero CO2 emissions globally around 2050,” the report reads. The IPCC states that with “high confidence.”
Independent analysis by two other climate research groups called Canada’s level of commitment to the Paris Agreement “insufficient” and likely to lead to over 2 C of warming.
Additional measures to reduce Waterloo Region’s emissions will be revealed in the near future, however, as a new strategic plan is in the works. Coun. Vrbanovic said the plan will likely be released in November, and ratified by December.
“I think in the region we’ve made a strong start … and I think this community has a lot of potential,” said Fuentes. “I’m hopeful that we can ratchet up to the levels that we need.”