County declines declaration of climate emergency
By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors decided not to make an official declaration that climate change is an emergency during an Oct. 23 meeting, but did pass a lengthy resolution noting the work the county is undertaking around combating climate change, and pledging to continue that work.
In June, the federal government declared climate change an emergency, which, as a report from county planner Charlsey White indicated, is a non-binding declaration of opinion with no specified action attached to it. A number of municipal governments have also taken the step of officially declaring climate change an emergency.
Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen said the issue had recently come to a joint environmental committee meeting, which brings together members of the environmental committees from the county’s four lower-tier municipalities.
“I did get the strong feeling there should be some declarations made by all four municipalities . . . I did suggest it’s something that should be talked about here, given that all four municipalities have asked the county to take the lead,” Danielsen said.
The county is working on creating a climate change mitigation and adaptation plan and recently hired a climate change co-ordinator, a contract staff person who will be responsible for the creation of that plan.
“The climate change science is out there and it’s extensively documented and it continues to grow every single day,” White said, as she presented council with a report drafted by herself and public works director Craig Douglas regarding a potential declaration. “And what it really has told us is that the planet Earth, it’s warming, and it’s going to continue to warm, and most of that is really due to our actions.”
“We see it here in Haliburton County in a number of different ways,” White said, adding those included increased incidents of flooding, heat waves and water quality issues in local lakes.
“It should be noted that the county is not in a position to offer greenhouse gas reduction targets, we’re just not far enough along in the process,” Douglas added.
Aside from the climate change plan itself, Douglas noted that other county efforts, such as the installation of larger culverts and its LIDAR mapping project, will also help to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Danielsen said she thought it was important for the county to make a statement about its commitment to climate change work, but was hesitant about making an official declaration.
“When it comes to making a declaration, in quotations, I have some anxiety about that because to me, when you make a declaration of some form of emergency, and this is a huge one, normally there’s a plan in place to deal with that,” she said, “and we’ve all gone through emergency planning and the process, and we’re not there yet, and I’m just a little worried that making this declaration, as a declaration . . . given that we’ve just got someone on staff to start looking at this and giving us some clear direction, it might be a little bit early.”
Other councillors seemed to agree with that sentiment.
“Certainly, we the world and the county that we live in, I don’t think that there’s anybody in the room that denies the reality of this,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.
“I share the warden’s reservations about doing something before you have enough knowledge to feel confident,” Devolin said, adding, “We’re not done, we’ve hardly started.”
“We’re already in the process of the doing,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, adding she’d prefer to wait until the county’s new climate change co-ordinator had done some work and until the county had something more specific to say in the form of a declaration.
“So when the time comes, I’m sure that ultimately a declaration will be made, that we have one solid declaration to make to point us in the right direction for the future.”
Council did pass a resolution with a statement, a lengthy one, reading as follows:
“And whereas climate change is occurring and contributing to billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage worldwide, stressing local and international economies, including within the County of Haliburton; Whereas climate change is negatively impacting the health and survival of many species and natural environments worldwide and in the County of Haliburton; Whereas climate change is currently harming human populations through high water levels, wildfire and other extraordinary events; Whereas an emergency can be defined as ‘an often dangerous situation requiring immediate action’; That County Council direct staff to continue their work on the municipal climate change mitigation and adaptation plan; That County Council direct staff to monitor opportunities specific to climate change mitigation and adaptation, in parallel with the development of, but prior to, the adoption of the Climate Change Plan, for Council consideration; and That County Council acknowledges the major impacts that climate change has and will continue to have in the County of Haliburton and commits to continue the significant work in the area of climate change currently underway at the county.”
In a letter to county council prior to last week’s meeting, citizen group Environment Haliburton encouraged council to make the declaration.
The letter read: “The board of directors of Environment Haliburton urges you to issue such a declaration now for the following reasons:
“1. There is a scientific consensus that a climate change emergency exists requiring urgent, immediate, and deep cuts to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
“2. Action at all governmental levels, as well across all sectors of our society, is essential if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting greenhouse gas emissions and related temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
“3. A declaration of a climate change emergency helps communicate the seriousness of the climate change threat and sets the stage for community-wide engagement on what we can do here in Haliburton County to both play our part in reducing emissions and adapting to the changes already locked-in due to past emissions.
“4. Wide-spread community support for a robust county-wide climate change plan will be essential to both the setting and achievement of significant emission reductions in the county, as well as mobilizing the resources required to protect people and property in the face of, for example, the increased incidence of extreme weather events and food insecurity.”
Terry Moore, a director with Environment Haliburton, was present for last week’s council meeting and told the Haliburton Echo the organization was disappointed with the outcome. Moore said the importance of the declaration was communicating to county residents the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change, “so that the community gets a sense of what its political leadership is saying at the local level,” and so that residents are thereby more likely to take supportive actions. Moore did say he was optimistic there seemed to be an understanding the county would eventually make a declaration.