Why I support climate emergency declarations

This letter is to express my strong support for the proposed climate emergency declaration by the City of Greater Sudbury.

As a result of the largest scientific collaboration in human history, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the climate crisis that humanity faces is now beyond reasonable doubt. A generation after they were first predicted, the impacts are now increasingly visible in Canada and around the globe. Fires, floods, droughts, storms, wind and extreme heat are becoming increasingly severe. In Ontario alone, insured losses from extreme weather events, each one of which cost them over $25 million, exceeded $1.3 billion in 2018.

On top of that, the Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that governments incur about $3 in damage to infrastructure and other public services, for every dollar of those insured losses. Plus, uninsured financial losses by individuals, companies, and institutions are often estimated to be one to three times as large as the reported insured losses. And all these figures only cover losses measured directly in money, omitting health damage and a wide range of environmental losses.

In the face of this crisis, it is beyond tragic that the current Ontario government has retreated so far from the climate commitments and climate action that Ontario had belatedly begun. Our climate law has been revoked; our ambitious (but not strong enough) climate targets have been slashed, and virtually all programs to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario have been greatly weakened or abandoned. With a federal election looming, the future of federal climate action is also uncertain.

In these dispiriting circumstances, municipal climate leadership is of great importance. Municipalities are at the front line of much climate damage. Municipalities, as the owners and operators of most of Ontario's infrastructure, quickly feel the impacts of physical damage from extreme events. They are also much more vulnerable to liability lawsuits than senior levels of government. Climate change also exacerbates inequalities, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable, often increasing social welfare needs just when the municipality itself is least able to meet them. In many ways, it is municipalities, rather than the senior levels of government, that have the most to lose from climate inaction and paralysis.

Municipalities can also do something about it. They have a substantial role to play in both climate adaptation and mitigation. Municipalities have a lead role in land-use planning, the major driver of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario as documented in chapter four of my 2019 energy conservation report. Municipalities also have large direct fossil fuel footprints, and play a highly visible leadership role in their communities.

It is therefore exciting to see so many Canadian municipalities joining others around the world to declare climate emergencies. This includes more than 350 in Quebec plus Halifax, Vancouver, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, West Nipissing, Richmond, London, Burnaby, Nanaimo, Burlington, Halton Hills, St. Catharines, Bracebridge, Capital Regional District, Central Kootenay, Edmundston, Islands Trust, Mahone Bay Town, Moncton, Powell River, Sooke District,  and Old Crow.

Greater Sudbury can be a leader in Northern Ontario and be among the early municipalities in Ontario to declare a climate emergency.

Greater Sudbury has experience as an environmental leader. Sudbury’s regreening expertise is recognized worldwide. Its regreening story has inspired many people and has shown that dramatic change is possible with leadership and action.

A municipal climate emergency declaration is wholly justified on the science and by the current "do almost nothing" approach of our provincial government. A declaration will not, of course, be enough by itself. It has to be followed by real action. I encourage the council of the City of Greater Sudbury to collaborate with other municipalities across Canada who are facing up to the reality of our climate crisis, and exploring what they can most effectively do about it.

If I can be of any assistance in that search, please let me know.

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