Special Report: Climate Change

Hamilton Declares Climate Emergency

Hamilton City Council recently declared a climate emergency. This is what the declaration means for the city and its residents.

By Ian Borsuk
Published April 24, 2019

You may have heard that the City of Hamilton has delared a "climate emergency". The decision was made at the March 18, 2019 meeting of the Board of Health, of which all councillors are members, and ratified two days later, unanimously, at City Council.

Image Credit: Sean Hurley
Image Credit: Sean Hurley

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.

Symbolic Declaration

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.

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 reprioritize and renew its commitment to climate action in light of the scientific consensus presented through the 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report: that we are not doing enough to protect our children and future generations.

Specific New Actions

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.

Collective Action

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.

Text of the Motion

Following is the text of the motion to declare a climate emergency:

WHEREAS, the City of Hamilton recognizes that Climate Change is an emergency and the single largest threat to municipalities across the world and urgent climate action is needed;

WHEREAS, the City of Hamilton has already been impacted by Climate Change through shoreline and escarpment destruction, millions of dollars of infrastructure damages by extreme storm events and increase freeze – thaw cycles destroying our roads and subsurface infrastructure;

WHEREAS, the City of Hamilton recognizes all the existing, albeit fragmented, climate change work across the corporate departments and the ongoing corporate climate adaptation planning;

WHEREAS, The City of Hamilton recognizes the new Bay Area Climate Change Council that brings a community collaborative regional approach to accelerating climate action across the cities of Hamilton and Burlington, and which will be inviting the Cities to participate on the implementation teams;

WHEREAS, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) most recent report has indicated a need for massive reduction in carbon emissions of about 45% from 2010 in the next 11 years, reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, to have a reasonable chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C and maintaining a climate compatible with human civilization; and,

WHEREAS the City of Hamilton recognizes that climate action and the low-carbon transition also represents a massive opportunity for economic stimulation and growing job opportunities in the new low-carbon economy.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

(a) That the City of Hamilton declare a climate emergency that threatens our city, region, province, nation, civilization, humanity and the natural world;

(b) That a multi-departmental Corporate Climate Change Task Force of City of Hamilton staff be created under the leadership of the City Manager;

(c) That the Corporate Climate Change Task Force be directed to investigate and identify:

i. Additional actions to be taken to incorporate into existing plans and policies to achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2050.

ii. Best processes to centralize reporting on Climate Change for the Corporation of the City of Hamilton; and

iii. Gaps in current programs and projects and strategies to address those gaps; and,

iv. The establishment of a critical path and Terms of Reference to initiate an awareness strategy campaign to encompass the history of global warming, climate change and the United Nation’s Declaration on a Climate Emergency, which is to include the impacts of not taking such action, and the investment vs. the expense of taking such action;

(d) That the Corporate Climate Change Task Force report back to the Board of Health within 120 days; and,

(e) That Council supports City of Hamilton staff participation in Bay Area Climate Change Implementation Teams as subject matter experts to accelerate climate action across the Bay Area.c


This article was first published on The Point and is republished here with permission.

Ian Borsuk is a young community organizer and activist. He is a Climate Campaign Coordinator at Environment Hamilton.

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