County of Haliburton council decided not to declare a climate emergency but still voted to recognize climate change and continue efforts to combat it.
Council discussed the idea and voted Oct. 24 to recognize that climate change is occurring and negatively impacting both global and local economies, environments and species. The resolution also directed staff to continue their work to address climate change, to encourage the public to take similar actions and to commit to the ongoing consideration of declaring a climate change emergency.
Warden Liz Danielsen said although she felt it was important to make a statement about climate change, she felt an emergency declaration would be premature because the municipality does not yet have a plan in place.
“Making a declaration of some form of emergency – and this is a huge one – normally, there’s a plan,” Danielsen said. “We’re not there yet.”
More than 400 jurisdictions in Canada have declared a climate change emergency, according to the website for the worldwide movement. The aim is to build public awareness and mobilize resources of sufficient scale to address the issue.
The county is working on a climate change mitigation and adaption plan and has recently hired a new climate change co-ordinator to oversee its creation.
Council members agreed with Danielsen.
“We often talk about taking time to ensure you have the right words on the page for the right reasons,” Coun. Carol Moffatt said. “We have a brand new employee we haven’t heard from yet. I support just waiting a bit to hear from that person.”
Coun. Cec Ryall questioned the use of the word “emergency,” which he said is usually for more sudden events.
“What we’re facing here is not that. We’re facing a change of the way the world is going to be from this day forward. It’s never going to go back to the way it was,” Ryall said. “I’m not as concerned using the word emergency as I am about doing nothing about the situation. I think what we need to do is show by example. Show by the actions we take.”
Those actions are well underway, according to municipal staff. Director of public works Craig Douglas noted the county is taking on other environmentally focused measures, such as shoreline preservation and flood plain mapping.
“Across all five levels of government, we’re already committing millions of dollars,” Coun. Brent Devolin said.
Environment Haliburton! pressed county council to make the declaration. In a letter to councillors, the group’s board said the declaration should be made and followed with a series of public engagement sessions to explain climate science.
“A declaration of a climate change emergency, at the front end of the County’s climate change planning process, is key to building the kind of community support essential to producing and implementing a climate change plan that can actually make a difference,” the letter said.
Group president Susan Hay said they are disappointed by the council’s decision.
“However, we hope to hear a strong message from them in the near future, recognizing the crisis that climate change represents to our community,” Hay said.
Council indicated that the resolution does not mean an emergency declaration won’t be made in the future.
“We’re not done. We’ve hardly started,” Devolin said. “We’re going to do something.”