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Calgary climate debate preview as committee moves declaration to council

Council watchers got a preview of the upcoming debate on Calgary declaring a climate emergency.

A notice of motion to declare a climate emergency in Calgary was supposed to be reviewed on its technical merits at the first-ever Executive Committee meeting Tuesday. However, that turned into a movie trailer of sorts on how the debate might unfold at the next full meeting of council.

(How council works: A Notice of Motion comes to the Executive Committee and is reviewed for technical merits – language, dates, accurate information, circulation, checklist. If approved, it moves to a full meeting of council for debate.)

Initially, the motion came with Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s name attached to it. But Ward 5’s Raj Dhaliwal introduced the motion at committee.

But it was Ward 12’s Evan Spencer who opened the door to further discussion on the climate commitment. Spencer said he’d been on a journey of sorts, spurred by the worry that the economy and climate action can’t co-exist.

“I certainly kind of have carried that in the past,” he said.

Spencer said a recent conversation with a Ward 12 resident about a carbon-capture-to-concrete operation – in that ward – demonstrated to him that it’s possible to do both.

“Calgary has strong policy already, but even as an exercise to refresh our passion for environmental action, and to signal to the business community in Calgary that these two things can cohabitate,” he said.

“They can move forward together, and we can build back our economy and we can take care of the environment at the same time.”

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said he liked how the motion was written. It encouraged city businesses to be part of it and find the economic justification.

More into the debate

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner reiterated that the city has solid climate policy. She was hoping to see specific dates that city business units have to provide budgets and reports on their climate plans.

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot questioned the use of 1.5 degrees as the defining result. He suggested it should be the goal.

“I don’t know if there’s any scientific evidence that says that if we do all these things that it will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees,” he said.

Dick Ebersohn, the city’s manager for climate change and the environment said it’s language used across the world.

“If I could just put this out there that the science behind the 1.5 degrees is really clarified through scientific analysis by the largest number of world scientists that come together through the International Panel on Climate Change,” Ebersohn said.

More tangible actions on climate were sought by Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott. He was told to bring those as a motion arising when this matter was discussed at council.

‘Emergency’ status

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp was concerned about using the word ‘emergency’ in the declaration, but not because the issue isn’t important.

“I completely agree that climate change is a critical issue, and it requires our municipality and our committee to step up and do our part,” she said.

“But I feel like the word emergency in a municipal context means something very specific to our citizens.”

Coun. Peter Demong suggested more clarification was needed on why it was being termed an emergency.

Ebersohn said it’s not the same as a state of local emergency (SOLE) which offers the city specific powers. The climate emergency term is one that’s been used since 2016, he said. It become widely used across the globe.

He brought up wildlife population decline, coral reef disappearance, disease spread and overall biodiversity.

“I can go on and on and on. And this is the thing that global communities are recognizing and they say that is the emergency that we need to recognize,” he said.

Coun. Dhaliwal was very clear in his close.

“In my opinion, it’s an emergency,” he said.

“I’m glad that we are getting into this race because we don’t want to be cheerleaders on sidelines and cheering and seeing our competitors in this race and potentially winning it.”