Greater Victoria School District poised to declare climate emergency

The Greater Victoria School District has moved a step closer to declaring a climate emergency, a move that will require staff to develop an action plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

A committee of trustees has approved a motion by board chairwoman Jordan Watters that directs the superintendent to come up with targets and strategies in support of a call by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to limit global warming to 1.5 C.

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The motion still has to be approved by the full board, but it received unanimous support from members of the operations, policy and planning committee Monday night.

Watters said in an interview Tuesday that her motion was inspired by the “leadership and fearlessness” demonstrated by students in Greater Victoria and around the world in recent months.

“Young people are hungry for the adults to act and to show leadership and that makes things less scary for them,” she said.

“So, as a trustee, it felt like a really important and impactful thing that I could do to champion this and move it forward.”

Watters added that school districts have an important role to play that extends beyond retrofitting buildings or upgrading transportation systems.

“We, as an education system, have a huge opportunity to create climate literacy, and I think it’s climate literacy that’s really going to help all of us take the steps that we need to take to avert the worst of the climate catastrophe,” she said.

“The science is really clear. What’s less clear is how well the general population really understands.”

Tara Ehrcke of Parents 4 Climate said the group was delighted the motion passed at committee and is confident it will receive board support as well.

Ehrcke said she was particularly pleased that the motion calls for Watters to write to the provincial government and all other school districts in the province, urging them to take similar steps.

“We’re really quite excited to see our board basically taking on that advocacy role, because we know it’s a very big project,” she said.

“The school district, of course, doesn’t have tax authority on its own. It’s going to require significant funding and that has to be talked about at the provincial level.”

Ehrcke expressed concern, however, that the motion calls for the climate action plan to be part of the district’s strategic plan, which has shorter timelines than those needed to address climate change.

“Without having the longer-term picture, it’s hard to get an idea of how much you need to do in the next five years without knowing what you need to do in the next 20 to 30 years,” she said.

“So I do hope that that is a component of it and that that isn’t lost by rolling it into the strategic plan.”

If it approves the motion, the school district will join a growing international movement of local governments that have declared climate emergencies and promised to accelerate efforts to fight global warming.

Vancouver was the first city in Canada to declare an emergency. It has since been joined by jurisdictions across B.C. and the rest of Canada, including the City of Victoria and the Capital Regional District.

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