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St. John’s city council declares climate emergency

Fridays for Future activists Hannah Baker (left), 18, and Alice Ferguson-O’Brien (right), 15, said they will hold city council to account on climate change, and will continue to strike — the next climate strike is planned for Friday, Nov. 29 at 11 a.m. at the Memorial University clock tower. They will march to the Confederation Building.
Fridays for Future activists Hannah Baker (left), 18, and Alice Ferguson-O’Brien (right), 15, said they will hold city council to account on climate change, and will continue to strike — the next climate strike is planned for Friday, Nov. 29 at 11 a.m. at the Memorial University clock tower. They will march to the Confederation Building. - Juanita Mercer

Still a lot of work to do, young activists say

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

There were smiles in the mostly full gallery at St. John’s council chambers Monday evening as council unanimously voted to declare a climate emergency.

At least a dozen of those in the gallery were teenagers and young adults, some of whom represented the climate strike group Fridays for Future.

“I didn’t expect it to happen, so it was really amazing just hearing everyone stand up and say, you know, ‘I’m definitely going to support this,’ and seeing everyone support it,” said 18-year-old Memorial University student Hannah Baker.

She said she didn’t expect it to pass because of the city’s dependence on “huge emitters” such as the oil industry.

"I think that we still have a lot of work to do as a municipality before we can really consider ourselves fully sustainable and green.” — Alice Ferguson-O'Brien

Another Fridays for Future activist, 15-year-old Alice Ferguson-O’Brien, said she plans to hold city council to account by continuing to strike with Fridays for Future.

“This motion that was passed today — although it’s incredible and super exciting that we’re recognizing the climate emergency — I think this is just the beginning, and I don’t think this is enough,” she said. 

“Although an action plan was referenced in the motion, I think that we still have a lot of work to do as a municipality before we can really consider ourselves fully sustainable and green.”

Plan due by end of 2019

Coun. Ian Froude: “The motion today recognizes the importance of acting by affirming climate change as a strategic priority for the City of St. John’s, and emphasizes urgency by calling it an emergency. Essentially, the crux of this is that the more we delay, the worse the problem gets, and the more severe the future action will have to be to stop it and adapt to it.” - Juanita Mercer/The Telegram
Coun. Ian Froude: “The motion today recognizes the importance of acting by affirming climate change as a strategic priority for the City of St. John’s, and emphasizes urgency by calling it an emergency. Essentially, the crux of this is that the more we delay, the worse the problem gets, and the more severe the future action will have to be to stop it and adapt to it.” - Juanita Mercer/The Telegram

Coun. Ian Froude put forward the motion, the text of which says it affirms action on climate change as a strategic priority, commits to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and directs city staff to bring a report to council for its consideration before the end of 2019 that describes an approach for creating a sustainability plan.

The motion says such a plan should include an assessment of climate risks and vulnerabilities, and actions for the city to increase local adaptation and resilience; specific greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050, and actions for the city to achieve those targets; the development of reporting systems for energy utilization, greenhouse gas emissions, and weather effects to inform policy and budgeting choices; and funding sources and collaboration opportunities to support the plan. 

Froude said making climate mitigation and adaptation a strategic priority means it will be considered in every decision when staff give advice to council.

He said the key person working on the plan will be the newly hired sustainability co-ordinator, but that work will be completed in conversation with all departments.

‘The great challenge of our time’

Before voting, almost every councillor (except Coun. Debbie Hanlon and Deanne Stapleton) stood to make a statement in support of Froude’s motion.

Mayor Danny Breen thanked Froude for his work preparing the motion, and said they went through the draft several times. 

Coun. Maggie Burton called climate change “the great challenge of our time,” and said in the coming decades people will “pay massively” for failure to act earlier. 

She said a concrete step the city can act on is to encourage compact, smart growth patterns — an urban planning principle that aims to reduce the amount of travel needed to reach goods and services.

Coun. Hope Jamieson suggested council work to make it easier for residents to make environmentally friendly choices. 

Froude mum on oil industry

Now that the city has declared a climate emergency, Froude was asked how that fits with the city’s role as a hub of activity for offshore oil and gas.

He said the motion he put forward focused on “what the municipality can do to both mitigate and adapt for climate change, it didn’t comment on anything further than that — that would be beyond the scope of a municipality.” 

When a reporter asked Froude if he had a particular position in relation to, for example, doubling offshore oil and gas production, he replied, “I don’t.” 

Reporters also asked about how future drive-thru applications will be considered with the declared climate emergency.

Froude said whether drive-thrus continue to be approved is currently being discussed by several committees, such as the environment and sustainability experts panel and the inclusion committee, because it’s a complex problem.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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