Whitehorsea city council declared a climate change emergency at its meeting Monday night, as well over 100 observers of all ages packed the public gallery.
The split vote came after 11 delegates appeared before council, including young teenagers, parents and seniors.
Their voices were different but the message was the same: more needs to be done now to battle climate change.
Following the vote in favour of the declaration, Mayor Dan Curtis said the words.
“I don’t know if I can say this but I’m going to say it anyway. I declare a climate change emergency in the City of Whitehorse.”
The declaration drew lengthy applause from the gallery.
Of the six members of council present, Coun. Samson Hartland was the only one to vote against the motion. He indicated he was uncomfortable declaring an
emergency when he wasn’t sure what the financial implications would be for the city.
Coun. Laura Cabott was absent.
Council was faced with two motions put forward in June by councillors Steve Roddick and Jocelyn Curteanu, but Curteanu withdrew her motion before the debate ensued Monday night.
As well, Roddick put forward substantial amendments to his motion.
Roddick told his colleagues and the audience he did not have the support from the majority of council for his original motion.
So, in the interest of getting an agreement on the emergency declaration, he was proposing the amendments, he said.
He had provided a copy of the proposed changes to his colleagues last Friday, for their consideration over the weekend.
The amendments were less onerous on the city and city administration than those contained in his original motion.
In the original motion, for instance, Roddick was asking administration to build a “carbon budget” into the city’s capital budget indicating the carbon emissions
for every project, beginning in 2020. It called for the establishment of a climate change adaptation task force.
In a report to council last week, administration indicated fulfilling the requirements of the two proposed motions would be costly and time-consuming, and could
possibly require additional staff.
It may require the re-alignment of existing staff time, resulting in a reduction of services in other areas, said the report.
Roddick’s amended motion directs administration to complete two self-assessment initiatives related to climate change that are provided by the Federation of
Canadian Municipalities: The Climate Adaptation Maturity Scale; and the Municipal GHG Emissions Reduction Maturity Scale.
The motion says “That administration be directed to review the results of these assessments, review our current mitigation and adaptation priorities and targets, and report back to council with a range of options for enhancing our adaptation and mitigation efforts before the next strategic plan update.”
Roddick thanked his fellow council members for their willingness to pass the motion.
He suggested using the self-assessments will allow Whitehorse to identify gaps in its fight against climate change.
Roddick, the other councillors and the mayor all noted how the city has already undertaken substantial efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and
promote a greener lifestyle to combat climate change.
Council chambers was full long before the meeting began at 5:30 p.m., with standing room only. Even then it was tight, as some stood outside the room in the
Many of the youth had messages written on their T-shirts.
“There is no planet B,” read one message.
Each of the 11 delegates who addressed council made impassioned pleas to declare an emergency, to commit to do more in the battle against climate
Emma Marnik, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student, told council she is proud to be a Yukoner, is proud of the vast wilderness the territory has to offer.
But the territory, once a leader in the move toward renewable energy with its foray into wind energy and its reliance on hydro, has now fallen behind the rest of
the country, and that needs to be changed, she said.
Marnik told council the Yukon has embraced liquefied natural gas as a new source of energy while the territory is already seeing, experiencing the impact of
climate change here.
The glaciers in Kluane National Park are undergoing huge change; are melting away before our eyes, she suggested.
Marnik said she and her peers are afraid of what the future holds, are afraid they might not want to bring a child into this world.
“We are not acting as though our house is burning and we are watching the flames right in front of us,” she told council on the same day 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden lambasted international leaders at the UN Climate Change Summit in New York.
“We need to act and we need to act now,” 13-year-old Kalia Graham told council.
Federal NDP election candidate Justin Lemphers said he’s worried about the future for his children and his grandchildren some day.
“I want them to know I fought for their future,” he said. “We are here because we want our leaders to act.”
Some say they’d never seen the Yukon River as low as it was last spring, he told council.
During his campaign work, Lemphers said, the concern over climate change comes up consistently.
“Declaring a climate emergency is the right choice,” he said.
Brook Land-Murphy told council the motion on declaring a climate emergency will be the most important motion they will vote on during their tenures as councillors and mayor.
“This is your chance to be on the right side of history,” she said.