Local governments must show leadership in preparing for climate change and reducing impacts of greenhouse gases on the environment.
So says Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian following the release this week of a report by Environment and Climate Change Canada that reveals the country is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world — warming the report said is “effectively irreversible.”
The federal government report is the first in a series of scientific assessments on changes to Canada due to global warming.
The report states the country’s average temperature jumped
1.7 C from 70 years ago, compared to the average global temperature, which is up 0.8 C.
“We are already seeing the effects of widespread warming in Canada,” climate-science adviser at Environment Canada Elizabeth Bush said. “It’s clear, the science supports the fact that adapting to climate change is an imperative. Urgent action is needed to reduce emissions.”
Christian called the impact of climate change on Canada concerning, but not surprising.
He said the city has already begun work to withstand weather changes and events, including dykes for flooding, increased storm sewer capacity for rainstorms and fire protection to combat interface blazes.
As the city adjusts, Christian said mitigation is also “imperative.”
Impacts already seen today will stay for “centuries to millennia,” according to the ECCC report, and if the world continues emitting greenhouse gas emissions at the current rate, most parts of Canada by 2050 will see temperature increases of between 7 C and 9 C.
In the worse case, Canada could see 10 times as many deadly heat waves and twice as many extreme rainstorms.
“I think that we have to recognize that the impact of what they call anthropogenic effects on the environment are really our responsibility,” Christian said.
“We have to be prepared to accept that reality and to pay for it.”
That responsibility does not lie with Kamloops alone, however.
Christian said policy for years in place at the provincial and federal levels has damaged the environment, including regulations around forestry, mining and transportation.
He said a city the size of Kamloops deals with staffing and funding capacity issues, noting financial contributions from higher levels of government have been seen and are expected.
Christian said it is unfortunate climate-change deniers hold lofty positions — and he expects some may live in Kamloops, though none of whom are on Kamloops city council.
In fact, earlier this week, the new council — elected last fall — revealed its high-level strategic priorities for the term and included among its top four “environmental leadership.” Christian addressed those who might view the issue as “frivolous” and called it essential to the city’s other priorities, including a vibrant economy.
“There’s a new imperative that we are responding to as a council,” Christian told KTW.
“And I think, to their credit, everybody on this council has done their homework. They know the issues, they know the options and alternatives and they’re prepared to make decisions about that.
“You’re going to see over the course of these next four years a lot of those decisions come into play, but that will not be unique to Kamloops. Kamloops will be a leader in terms of some of these, but there’s lots of other cities that will be doing a similar thing.”
Coun. Arjun Singh is the longest tenured city councillor and called the mayor’s use of the podium to address the issue of climate change “a first.”
Singh also cited council’s inclusion of environmental leadership in its strategic plan as being new.
“I’ve never heard a mayor be so sort of up front and direct about concerns that he has,” Singh said. “Mayor Christian on Tuesday really talked about that and I think that’s very, very gratifying to hear, but I also think that’s a natural evolution to where we are now.”
Singh has helped push the issue through the years, as city hall implemented a sustainability committee and integrated the development and sustainability departments. He is awaiting a climate-action strategy, which will help direct council toward the most meaningful actions it can take.
He called the ECCC report “very alarming,” but hopes to move the conversation away from debilitating and depressing to actions going forward. Though a cultural shift is challenging, he said a decarbonized world could result in better communities, with healthier people and more vibrancy.
“I’m super hopeful for this council,” Singh said. “I think we’re all really thinking about this issue in a way that’s meaningful. We’ve already taken concrete actions, like doubling our active transportation budget, adding transit hours.”
Asked if there is anything the city should be doing that it isn’t, Christian said there is always more to do.
“What we have is an issue of capacity,” he said. “How much money do we have and how much staff do we have to do the engineering that’s required on a lot of these things? To say that we should be jumping all over these projects and opportunities and using contractors and expensive consultants doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
“So there’s kind of a pace that a city of 100,000 people can do this kind of work and that’s what we try to look for, that sweet spot — what can we reasonably accomplish?
“What’s going to give us the best return on our investment.”
— with a file from Canadian Press