Sarnia has joined the growing list of Canadian cities to declare a climate emergency.
Council approved the declaration in a 7-2 vote Monday in a move that will require staff to identify ways Sarnia can reduce its carbon footprint and view all policies through an “environmental lens.”
“Let’s reflect on the reality. There’s no financial cost to making this declaration. We’re not asking for taxes, but there is a cost to our future and our opportunities if we don’t act today,” said Coun. Brian White, who brought the idea to council.
Several delegations urged city leaders to join Kingston, Hamilton, London and dozens of other municipalities that have already declared a climate change emergency.
“Similar to the positive implications of raising a pride flag, it makes people feel welcome, included and safe in our community,” said Kelly Moir, who has started a group called the Sarnia Sustainability Ambassadors.
“If Sarnia became a municipal leader in declaring a climate emergency, perhaps more local environmentalist groups would be more comfortable coming forward and proposing specific goals.”
Coun. Bill Dennis opposed the declaration, calling it “extreme” and “potentially disrespectful” to the people who work in local industry and fuel the city’s economy.
“This community might as well fold up the tents without (them)… every person in this community directly or indirectly owes their current standard of living to these large industries,” Dennis said.
White said many Chemical Valley companies recognize the problem and are already taking steps to address climate change, and failing to act now could be even costlier.
Students from St. Patrick’s High School’s ‘Green Team’ said youth are worried about the future stressed by predictions of habitat loss and social upheaval resulting from the planet’s rising temperatures.
Leslie Pullen, of Climate Action Sarnia, pointed to the impact of climate change on local wheat and corn crops, including delaying seeding this spring and toxic mould.
“Farmers want to hear this community cares, (that) this community cares enough to declare a climate emergency and state, ‘We want to do something to secure your livelihoods and futures.’”
Sarnia had already created a new staff position to develop a climate change adaptation plan, including recommendations for the city’s strategic plan, official plan, zoning bylaws and infrastructure management.
It is also using $10.4 million received from a federal climate change adaptation fund to continue separating its combined sewers in the face of increasingly severe storms and flooding.
Since the movement began in Australia in 2016, more than 450 cities representing 40 million people have declared climate emergencies around the world.