North Cowichan council voted to officially acknowledge that we are in a climate change emergency, with Mayor Al Siebring and Councillor Tek Manhas opposed. (File photo)

North Cowichan acknowledges climate emergency

Municipality joins growing list of local governments doing the same

North Cowichan’s council has officially acknowledged the municipality is facing a climate emergency.

Coun. Rosalie Sawrie made the successful motion at the council meeting on July 17.

Sawrie said she was proud to be part of a municipality that is already working hard to do its part to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“A lot of great work has been done already and acknowledging that we are facing a climate emergency would show the public that this is a really big priority for North Cowichan,” she said.

Council also decided that following the planned hiring of an environmental specialist by North Cowichan, staff will be directed to report to council in 90 days with an integrated climate action strategy.

Duncan’s council declared a local climate emergency at its meeting last week.

A similar motion was recently passed by the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities.

One Cowichan, along with 48 local organizations, sent letters to all local governments asking them to step up and declare a climate emergency.

North Cowichan Coun. Kate Marsh said she appreciated Sawrie’s decision to use the term “officially acknowledge” a climate emergency as opposed to declaring one.

“To declare a climate emergency would seem to me that we’re stating the obvious,” she said.

“It’s not the authority of a local government to declare a climate emergency and it’s already being declared around the world.”

But some council members took exception to the motion.

Coun. Tek Manhas said he will vote against it because he doesn’t believe there is a climate emergency.

“If we really believed that there was a climate emergency, we wouldn’t drive our cars and other things,” he said.

“Besides, in the (just completed) citizen satisfaction survey, only seven per cent of respondents said the environment and climate change are important to them.”

Coun. Christopher Justice said saying just seven per cent of those who took the survey indicated that the environment is the most important issue to them in the survey is a misrepresentation.

He said people taking the survey were told to pick just one thing that was important to them.

“I recognize a diversity of opinion on this issue in the community,” Justice said.

“It seems to me that just about everyone accepts that climate change is happening, whether it be part of natural cycles or not. The overwhelming weight of the evidence indicates that unprecedented climate change is being caused by greenhouse gases. We have a tremendous responsibility to anticipate upcoming climate challenges.”

Marsh said many people in the Valley have asked council to add its voice to the those concerned about climate change.

“To do this (acknowledging a climate emergency) says we’re really serious about climate action,” she said.

“We’re not doing it just for show, but are taking steps, like our decision (made earlier in the same meeting) to move forward with dealing with the issues at Quamichan Lake.”

Coun. Debra Toporowski said she has no definite answers as to what is causing climate change, but everything is connected.

“There’s a lot of room for everyone to work together on this, no matter what their viewpoints are,” she said.

“This is affecting everyone.”

Mayor Al Siebring reiterated the fact that only seven per cent of the respondents to the satisfaction survey indicated that climate change is a major priority for them.

“Some say that this reflects a lack of awareness of the issue but I don’t agree,” he said.

“People intuitively understand that no amount of government action will control the weather. Equally, I don’t want to leave the impression that I want to walk away from some notion of environmental responsibility. Of course we need to do what we can to be good environmental stewards, and that’s why we have our strategic plan.”

Siebring said of the 50 information bullets in the strategic plan, 22 of them could be seen as addressing the issues of climate change and environmental protection, including the hiring of an environmental specialist so there will be a staff member devoted full time to the issue.

“We live in a region that is one of the most proactive in B.C. on environmental issues,” he said.

“We’re already seriously doing our part, by declaring a climate emergency, we’d be moving the issue to the very top of our priority list ahead of the opioid crisis, homelessness, and affordable housing. Do we really believe we’re in an existential crisis due to climate change? I plead that we not declare a symbolic emergency just so we can say that we’re doing something.”

The motion passed, with Siebring and Manhas opposed.

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