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Council wary of climate plan

Oct 26, 2015

The issue of what the city should do about a changing climate came before councillors on October 19 – the same day voters removed one of the most climate-unfriendly national governments in the world. The Hamilton community climate change action plan was okayed but only after councillors extracted assurances that the decision doesn’t require any new spending and won’t commit council to the specific recommendations of the plan such as bus-only lanes.

The debate came amid more record-breaking global temperatures and growing attention on the Paris conference that will try to establish a mandatory international climate change agreement and as multiple local groups prepare for a major climate rally at city hall. The Hamilton2Paris rally on Sunday, November 29 will be one of hundreds of climate actions around the world telegraphing public concerns to the Paris conference that opens on November 30.

More than a dozen local groups are planning to gather in various locations and then walk, cycle, bus or use other climate-friendly means to ‘migrate’ to the 3 pm rally at City Hall where they will be welcomed by First Nations. Confirmed participants include Catholic and public schools, the Mustard Seed Co-op, the Hamilton chapter of Council of Canadians, Fossil Free McMaster, Burlington Green, SOBI, the local Blue Dot Movement, Burlington Green, Environment Hamilton, Catholic Development and Peace, KAIROS, Quakers, and the Green Party.

The community climate action plan was pulled together after two years of public consultations and multiple meetings by about 100 residents. Its presentation to council was bolstered by a detailed financial analysis that calculates costs and benefits of implementation plus avoided climatic costs and concludes the recommendations make economic as well as environmental sense.

But the inclusion of a call to “expand public transit services to include dedicated rapid transit lanes where possible” sent “red flags flying” for Terry Whitehead and Chad Collins. The latter also worried that council has endorsed master plans in the past and then been criticized for not implementing them. Collins extracted a promise from staff that any spending on the recommendations would be subject to future council decisions.

Whitehead suggested the proposals were anti-car and tried to cross-examine a citizen who participated in the consultations on behalf of large local industries, but his main objections centred on the possibility of dedicated transit lanes.

“That creates a parking lot of vehicles meaning more idling cars and more emissions so I’m not convinced that creating congestion and parking lots in our neighbourhoods and downtown corridors that that is really addressing climate change,” he stated.

Other short term plan recommendations call for a community energy plan, prioritizing low impact development to reduce stormwater flows, “secur[ing] property that serves as source water storage or preserves wildlife corridors” and “establish[ing] variable development charges to reflect real costs of buildings and maintaining infrastructure.” Matt Green welcomed the energy plan in particular and emphasized that “climate change is real”. No other councillors spoke on the report.

Dave Carson from Environment Hamilton described the plan as “not a prescription” but a tool for raising awareness “and most importantly stimulating some further action within the city”. He told councillors that “it is unlikely that the planet will stay below the supposed safe limit of a two degree Celsius increase so our preparations to mitigate and adapt to climate change need to take a much greater degree of urgency.”

Carson pointed to a decision earlier in the same meeting to spend $500,000 a year on bedbug control and contrasted it to the fact that the city funds only one part-time staff person “for steering climate initiatives through the city, and it’s not enough.”

Just prior to the debate at Board of Health scientists reported last month was the hottest September ever – the seventh month this year that has set a record – and a Norwegian city announced a ban on cars in its central core and the divestment from fossil fuels of its multi-billion dollar pension fund. 

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