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Calgary supports climate emergency declaration

Calgary will declare a climate emergency, and include a commitment to be net-zero by 2050.

The notice of motion, co-proposed by Coun. Raj Dhaliwal and six other councillors, was approved at the combined meeting of council Monday.

The motion talked about the costly natural disasters in Calgary. It also cited the 2020 citizen satisfaction survey that showed 80 per cent of Calgarians said they were concerned about climate change.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Jyoti Gondek and members of council met with energy industry executives. They talked about the opportunity Calgary had to take advantage of the economic potential of this declaration.

That was the nature of the discussion around the notice of motion.

“At the end of the day, we want to build a resilient community and support strategic opportunities for Calgary’s economy,” said Coun. Dhaliwal.

“And great news this morning in our breakfast with energy leaders – they were fully on board. They’re fully supportive of it and they’re excited to move forward.”

The motion calls for the city to invest in and accelerate ideas around emissions reduction, climate risk and asks for the implementation of a carbon budget.

Coun. Evan Spencer said he rejects that the oil and gas industry and climate change action can’t exist together.

“I absolutely want to reject the narrative that these two things stand in opposition,” Spencer said.

“These are not mutually exclusive. We can and, as we’ve heard from external experts even today speak to the fact both of these things can cohabitate and move together at the same time.”

The word ’emergency

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp brought forward an amendment to change the wording of the motion to “call to action to accelerate the climate resilience strategy” rather than emergency.

“I’m not addressing the fact that climate change isn’t actually very important, but emergency is very heavy, and it’s very heavy for our citizens right now,” she said.

The crux of the issue was in confusion over the use of emergency for climate change and for something like the city’s state of local emergency – which it is in right now due to COVID-19.

Administration provided a differentiation on the types of emergencies and what powers were available. It didn’t sit well with some councillors.

“I appreciate the response, but still challenged with the word emergency just because of that section 551 of the (Municipal Government Act), which essentially, it gives the municipality essentially unfettered access to resources without necessarily having to go through the legislative requirement of getting council approval,” said Coun. Chabot.

“And that’s part of the challenge I have with this word.”

Coun. Kourtney Penner offered up a short response, reminding councillors that the city is two years behind Edmonton, which had little issue using the word emergency.

“This is not the time to go on our own and reinvent the wheel. We are poised to become part of a global community,” said Coun. Penner.

The amendment was ultimately defeated.

Tying action to the declaration

Ward 6 Coun. Richard Pootmans said the declaration itself isn’t going to help emissions reductions. 

“The action plan, I think, is vital,” he said.

GM Michael Thompson said they’d need additional resources – including staff – to ramp up and execute the city’s climate plans.

“We don’t know what the capital and operating budget impacts will be yet,” Thompson said.

“That’s work that we’ll do over the next year. And then look to bring back to council so that you’re making a more informed budget decision in the fall of 2022.”

Administration expects to bring back a more refined strategy for at a council update in the second quarter of next year.  

Coun. Jasmine Mian said she feels inspired by this work coming forward.

“I think this is the biggest challenge that we are going to face in this generation,” she said.

“I believe that the work that we will do in relation to climate change and mitigating the impacts of climate change is the most significant work that I think we will do as politicians… we’re going to look back on this period in Calgary’s history and see it as a turning point.”