Whitehorse, northwestern Canada declares climate change emergency

Whitehorse council chambers were packed with spectators on Monday evening as councillors voted on a motion to declare a climate change emergency. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)
Whitehorse city council voted on Monday to declare a climate change emergency, but shied away from promising a “carbon budget” to better track the city’s emissions.

“I think it’s a great starting point,” said Mayor Dan Curtis, after Monday’s vote.

“I think we heard loud and clear, and we recognize — it doesn’t matter how much we do, we’re always going to need to do more, because the bar keeps on getting risen higher and higher as the Earth warms.”

Council chambers were packed with spectators on hand to watch the vote. Several people addressed council beforehand, urging councillors to pass the motion.

“There is no apolitical position you can choose, there’s no neutral position. You have a choice,” said resident Bob Jickling.

“We have more than enough science to know that we should be doing something. What we need now is political leadership, at all levels.”

Seventeen-year-old Emma Marnik told councillors that she was “terrified, and so are my peers.”

“We’re not acting like our house is burning, even though the flames are growing in front of us,” Marnik said.

Emma Marnik, 17, seen here at a demonstration last week urging action on climate change. Marnik told Whitehorse councillors she was scared of what the future will bring. (George Maratos/CBC)

The mayor and five councillors voted in favour of the motion. Coun. Samson Hartland voted against it, and Coun. Laura Cabbott was absent.

‘We need to reevaluate’

Coun. Steve Roddick first introduced the motion to council earlier this year. It refers to “unprecedented and accelerating” climate change that contributes to wildfires and extreme weather events, and threatens citizens’ health and city infrastructure.

The declaration of an emergency was aimed at “enhancing and accelerating action on our commitment to protect our community, economy and ecosystems,” the motion reads.

‘At its heart, it’s really about recognizing what the science of climate change is telling us,’ said Coun. Steve Roddick. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

“At its heart, it’s really about recognizing what the science of climate change is telling us,” Roddick said. “We need to re-evaluate where we’re at, and what climate leadership looks like.”

Roddick’s original motion would have required the city to measure the carbon emissions of new capital projects, but was dropped before Monday’s vote.

Also dropped was a commitment to explore “ambitious new collaborative actions” with the territorial government and local businesses through an expected green economic strategy.

Roddick said the changes were about finding “common ground” on council, by committing to “a more focused set of actions.”

Those actions include using a self-assessment tool to measure how the city is doing and where action is needed, as well as setting up an internal climate change adaptation task force. The city will also look for actions that can be achieved by the time of the city’s next strategic plan update.

“It’s just that balance of what we can realistically do, and the expectations — mitigating expectations of people saying, ‘do everything now,'” Curtis said.

“If we did that, it just wouldn’t be palatable for many citizens that we have, that are already struggling to try to make ends meet.”

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Mike Rudyk

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Climate change education is not just about science, Blog by Ingrid A. Medby

China: As China adapts to a melting Arctic, Shanghai prepares for the worst, The Independent Barents Observer

Finland: How will Finland become carbon neutral by 2035?, Yle News

Norway: Climate change is about to divide Norway’s largest Arctic island, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Climate change threatens security and industry, Russian PM says, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Local councils in Sweden more interested in climate change preparedness, Radio Sweden

United States: Warming climate puts bonds between Arctic nations to the test, Alaska Public Media

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