What just happened? Last evening the CVRD voted to join hundreds of local governments across the country in acknowledging the climate emergency. This is good.
But unlike other local governments, it punted the conversation about acting on that statement to a process with no timelines and no clear sense of products – voting instead to send the conversation to the CVRD’s strategic planning process. This is concerning.
You only need to look at the examples of local governments like Vancouver or New Westminster to see what we are talking about. They passed emergency declarations and gave staff timelines to come back to them with options. Then they passed detailed “bold moves” with quantitative targets and specific measures that ramp up even further what were already solid programs. This is what local climate leadership looks like today.
Ironically, Director Seibring – historically no fan of climate action – spoke in favour of the recommendation by the Regional Services Committee for staff to produce a report about existing CVRD action compared to the One Cowichan local climate action checklist and options for doing more. He did so because he thought such a report would show the CVRD already far in front, presumably with no need to do anything else. We would have welcomed such a study since any honest assessment would show not only that the CVRD has major gaps in is approach (it lacks, for example, a regional growth strategy), but that other local governments are now stepping up in ways that far surpass our efforts here.
Another debate around the table by those opposed to action centred on costs, even in the most micro sense of not wanting any staff time to be spent on producing a report. To say that is underestimating the threat posed by climate change to municipal finances by not acting is putting it mildly. Director Stone spoke last evening about one example of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new culvert in Ladysmith to handle increased bigger water events. We’re only just beginning to feel climate impacts, and these examples will just multiply. On the flip side, the biggest thing local governments can do to reduce emissions is to tackle urban sprawl, which has been proven to reduce costs. One thing is clear – the status quo is not an option. The laws of physics and chemistry stand still for no government.
What happens next? Last evening also saw the CVRD Chair position pass to Director Stone. Perhaps that is an opportunity to reset the CVRD’s approach to climate change. Chair Stone could help shepherd the strategic planning process to more specificity around climate action, and quickly. But he’ll need all of our help talking to our local elected officials about the need to do more and move faster, because our sense is that collectively they are not there yet.