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Mayors say everyone needs to join the climate-change battle

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes on his green roof at his home. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Governments can’t take on all the responsibility when it comes to fighting climate change, Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said, responding to a United Nations report released Monday that says there is no doubt human activity has caused the ocean, air and land to warm and create climate extremes.

While governments have to step up, “we also need all residents to step and do what they can,” Haynes said.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps echoed his comments.

“It’s all of us, it’s not just city hall.”

John Fyfe, a Victoria-based senior scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada and lead author of the report’s chapter dealing with future changes, noted the last major report of this type came over 10 years ago.

“The bottom line is what we knew 10 years ago about warming still stands, it’s just we’re much more confident now in the language that we’re using, it’s much stronger,” he said. “It paints a picture of what has happened up until now.”

The report says that climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, Fyfe said.

“It’s just a stronger and stronger message that we’re providing.”

Robin Cox, a professor and the program head in the Royal Roads University master’s program in climate-action leadership, said there is basically not a lot new in the report.

“But, of course, what it does is reinforce, underscore, amplify what we already know — that we need to be acting way more aggressively on reducing our [greenhouse gas] emissions if we’re going to have a hope not only of reaching our targets, but preventing going into tipping points past which there will be irreversible changes in the climate.”

She called the report “a reminder that we should be alarmed.”

Cox said emissions targets in place “are relatively conservative given where the world is at.”

“The reality is we have not thus far been meeting our targets.”

If we don’t curtail emissions, Cox said things will get worse and the wildfires and heat domes experienced this summer “will look like a fond memory.”

Helps said cities have a big role to play in dealing with climate change because, on a global level, they produce 70 per cent of emissions.

She touted a program that allows people using oil for heat to switch to heat pumps, and said bike lanes are also part of the solution.

“Bike lanes will cut 10,000 tonnes of carbon per year when the network is done,” she said.

Helps said the report doesn’t paint a totally bleak picture.

“It’s dire but it’s still hopeful,” she said. “It is what scientists have been saying for decades, with more urgency as of late.”

Helps said there are some basic facts to be aware of. “The stark reality that we need to face is that some of the things we’re seeing across the province and in our own city — heat waves, forest fires — are here to stay,” she said. “There’s no undoing that, that’s what the report seems to suggest.

“But there is still a window open that if we work together as a global community to basically get to net-zero emissions by 2050 we can prevent things from getting worse.”

Haynes said Saanich has taken a “multi-pronged” approach to climate concerns, including providing online information for people to devise their own plans. “It means reducing the use of dryers and washing machines or growing their own food.”

As part of his own efforts, Haynes has installed a “green roof” that helps regulate temperature in his home and has a food garden in his yard.

“We drive electric vehicles, a Prius as an example, and we use e-bikes,” he said. “We’re starting to see many residents doing the same.”

Haynes said the municipality has taken a number of steps to address climate concerns. “This particular council has accelerated that with an extra $2.6 million a year to increase our bicycle paths, our sidewalks for all ages and abilities.”

That is important because 60 per cent of greenhouse gas comes from transportation, he said.

“Collectively we must do all we can to start to wind the carbon-based economy back.”

He said he has family connections in areas around the world hit by climate-related crises. “I have a brother in California, I have a sister in Germany, I have a brother and sister in England.”

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