Eric Chong asked Abbotsford council to declare a climate emergency on Monday. Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News

Abbotsford council declines to declare climate emergency

Mayor says city is working to reduce emissions, but that procedures preclude immediate action

Abbotsford council has declined to declare a climate emergency and prompted staff to find more ways to speed up work to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

And while Mayor Henry Braun promised the city would continue working to reduce its climate emissions, activists who came to council Monday to convince officials that the matter was urgent left disappointed.

Eric Chong, of the local branch of the Extinction Rebellion climate change activist group, presented a slideshow detailing how a consensus of scientists have come to the conclusion that human-caused climate change is accelerating and that immediate action to limit greenhouse gas emissions is needed.

Chong – who was accompanied by about a dozen or so other men, women and children – pointed to the city’s recent emissions report and told council: “I don’t believe this is the best we can do and I know for a fact more is required … Abbotsford can take a real leadership position and become a role model to tackle the climate emergency.”

Following the presentation, Braun told Chong that the city is doing a number of things to reduce its emissions, pointing to its recent sustainability report and master plans that aim to increase efficiencies and respond to climate change.

“Nobody has to convince me that there’s climate change,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 65 years and I know the climate is different than when I grew up.”

“This is something that, for sure, we need to pay attention to, and are.”

But Braun also noted that work takes money. After Chong said that there were greater costs of not taking significant action, Braun suggested the possible need for a broader community discussion on the topic.

“Maybe we need a public discourse to see how much the people are willing to pay in increased property taxes to move it up.” The city has a plan to replace its lights with more efficient LED bulbs over four years, and Braun said maybe it could be done in two.

Braun said staff had heard the presentation and that it spotlighted an important issue that the city would continue to address. But he said council was likely to stick with the general practice of passing a motion to “receive” a delegation, but not taking immediate action.

Coun. Dave Loewen said he agreed climate change was an important topic and that the city needed to do more, but pushed back against those emphasizing the danger of the situation.

“I’m not a big fan of saying we declare an emergency and hocus-pocus. I don’t buy into that,” he said. “We do need to take action … I think there’s much more value in action than in just stating there’s an emergency.”

Coun. Patricia Ross, though, said the city could take the moment to look at how it can increase its efforts on the file. Ross, who noted that she had voted to declare a climate emergency at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, said council should do more than just receive the declaration. Ross moved an amendment to ask staff to create a report on how the city could increase its efforts to reduce its emissions and develop new ideas. However, no other councillors seconded the motion, and council proceeded to simply receive the delegation.

“I can assure you that our staff are working in six or seven different areas,” Braun told Chong following the vote. “Climate action is a federal and provincial priority, and local governments are key partners in helping to reduce greenhouse gases and Abbotsford is going to do its share.

“But it’s not just the city, we as individuals and residents also have an obligation … There are a whole host of things we can do in our own homes and own businesses.”

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