Colin Plant: Why we should declare a climate emergency in the capital region

Last week, the Capital Regional District unanimously passed its 2019-22 strategic plan. Four main focus areas have emerged as collective goals: Livability (transportation and housing), First Nations reconciliation, improved governance and advocacy, and climate adaptation and mitigation.

This latter priority encourages bold action on climate change, supported by an approved motion by the CRD board at the Feb. 13 meeting for the CRD to declare a climate emergency. A growing list of cities — including Vancouver and Halifax — have joined an international movement to declare a state of emergency regarding the climate crisis, promising to accelerate their climate-action efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

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While the board has not placed these priorities in a hierarchical list, the public has thus far shown the greatest interest in our environmental commitments.

Some have begun to criticize the relevance of the CRD making this declaration, suggesting we are such a small part of a large problem that our actions are meaningless.

The remainder of this commentary is my counter-argument to: “Why try to lower Canada’s contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions if China, Brazil, India, the U.S. and others don’t try to limit their emissions?”

I suggest you have to start somewhere and stand up for what you believe in. Or as Mahatma Gandhi more succinctly and famously said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Those who describe Canada’s “small” contribution (1.6 per cent in 2016) of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions as insignificant are essentially also making the argument that Canada’s $1.87-trillion gross domestic product of the world’s $135 trillion GDP is insignificant.

But $1.87 trillion is a lot to me, to our country and I suspect to you, the reader. So is 1.6 per cent of the world’s emissions.

If you extrapolate this further, the CRD has a population of about 400,000, which is just over one per cent of Canada’s 37 million residents. This would mean that the GDP of our region is approximately $1.87 billion. (This is probably a low estimate given statistics from Western Economic Diversification Canada that show Western Canada’s GDP is 18 per cent higher than the Canadian average.)

Based solely on population, our CRD contributions are estimated to be .0016 per cent to the world’s GHG emissions.

While I am admittedly talking about large and small numbers, I argue that doing nothing because it is a drop in the bucket is not accurate.

Yes, we need to advocate to our global neighbours to also act, but it is from a far more principled position if you have already adopted what you are asking others to do.

I am willing to try. And I think that is a Canadian ethos — we try to do our part and promote good and positive outcomes in the world. I suspect (and hope) you might agree.

Colin Plant chairs the board of the CRD and is a Saanich councillor.

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