Nelson council decided Monday to make climate change a focus of its strategic priorities session coming up in April.
The decision came after councillor Rik Logtenberg presented a motion asking that council “conduct a comprehensive review and expansion of the city’s plans for adaptation, mitigation and resilience.”
Nelson faces an emergent climate crisis, he said, because the city will “be deeply impacted from wildfire drought and flood, and significant work needs to be done to adequately prepare for this threat.”
Logtenberg originally intended to ask council to declare a state of climate emergency at Monday’s meeting.
Declaration considered at budget meeting
At a council budget meeting in January, Logtenberg told council that two major Canadian cities, Halifax and Vancouver, have declared states of climate emergency and others intend to. He wanted Nelson to do the same.
“It is dramatic language I know,” Logtenberg said at the time, “and there is debate about the language being dramatic. The challenge is that the climate response is not adequate to the targets we have set as a country and a province.
“Vancouver has already stepped ahead of the country on this, so they will probably be first in line for funding that might come down from the province because they have declared themselves.”
City manager Kevin Cormack said legal requirements and potential liabilities connected to declaring a state of emergency would need to be considered.
“I get using those words,” Cormack said, “it gets it out there. But the flip side is, does it confuse the public?”
Councillor Keith Page wondered how the public would react if an emergency declaration was made, and then a more immediate localized emergency materialized in the summer that required drastic immediate local action.
Mayor John Dooley said this could create a “cry wolf scenario,” adding, “it is prudent to make sure you are not just jumping on a bandwagon.”
Cormack pointed out the city has a number of plans — the Path to 2040, the Corporate Greenhouse Reduction Plan, the Water Master Plan, the Official Community Plan — that all address climate change in various ways.
Logtenberg acknowledged this but said “it is done without recognizing the context of why you are doing it, like why are we setting greenhouse gas reduction targets? It’s because there is an emergency, and you have to sometimes make some extraordinary changes in the city to deal with a new reality.”
Mayor urges caution
At Monday’s council meeting Logtenberg had already dropped the idea of asking council to declare an emergency, and council discussed adding climate change to the strategic priorities session on April 12 and 13 instead.
Mayor John Dooley agreed with that plan but had some reservations.
“If we are looking to save the planet here in Nelson, that is not going to happen,” he said. “We have to be cautious that we have the capacity. We should look at this in a total package, put this in the mix. As a council we need to learn what we are doing to date. For example, we are ahead of the curve on emergency planning, and with upgrades to water system and sewer. If it is about reducing carbon, it is a different ball game, but if it is about becoming resilient we are well ahead of the curve.”
Dooley also praised the EcoSave program, which is about to be extended to rural areas surrounding Nelson.
Logtenberg agreed the city and staff have been doing important work but said more direction is needed.
“What we have heard from staff is we have done the easy stuff, but they don’t know what they are doing next. They are looking to council for direction. It is about adapting and mitigation, and if we do not give them that strong direction, they will probably take a more business-as-usual approach because they have a lot to do. This motion would help to set that direction.”
Councillor Brittny Anderson said whatever good work the city has done, it is not enough.
“The science says we are still not doing enough, and the students [at the school climate strike earlier that day] say you are not listening. They are looking at us as leaders. We can sit on our hands and do small changes but this is not enough. There needs to be some sacrifices. Nelson alone will not solve climate change but we can be leaders, and we need to show we are listening.”
The strategic priorities session happens once each council term. Council members decide what they want to accomplish over the next four years.
The previous council’s strategic priories included:
• Developing a safe and adequate water supply
• Renewing assets of the city ’s major utilities in a cost effective manner
• Creating an energy efficient community
• Improving the city’s emergency management capabilities
• Improving the city’s occupational health and safety program