The United Kingdom has become the first country to declare a climate emergency. More Ontario cities have made similar moves and Toronto is going after the oil companies who profit most from the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere.
Burlington council unanimously endorsed a climate emergency declaration on April 23, the same day that London city council voted 12–3 to do the same thing. The following day they were joined by the municipal government of Canada’s capital city of Ottawa.
There are now hundreds of city declarations including dozens in Britain, but the decision approved by the UK Parliament on May 2 appears particularly significant and a direct response to mass civil disobedience in London and elsewhere led by Extinction Rebellion (XR).
“The decision marks a renewed sense of urgency in tackling climate change, following a visit to Parliament by teenage activist Greta Thunberg , the broadcast of David Attenborough’s documentary Climate Change: The Facts and 11 days of protest by environmental group Extinction Rebellion that paralyzed parts of London,” observed The Conversation.
The legislative move by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was supported by ruling Conservatives and other parties in the UK Parliament. Both Scotland and Wales had previously declared climate emergencies, but this one specifically included “and the environment” in recognition that the climatic crisis is inextricably linked to dramatic declines and disappearances of species.
“We are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes,” declared Corbyn. “It’s too late for tokenistic policies or gimmicks. We have to do more than just ban plastic straws. Individual action is not enough. We need a collective response which empowers people instead of just shaming them if they don’t buy expensive recycled toilet paper or drive the newest Toyota Prius.”
Extinction Rebellion cautioned its supporters that “the UK government is still a long way short of ‘telling the truth’” about the severity of the climate crisis. The group has absorbed hundreds of arrests in London as they occupied bridges, streets and subways to demand immediate action.
The UK has done far more to reduce carbon emissions than Canada. As of last year, cuts of 43% had been achieved in Britain. In contrast, over the same period Canadian emissions have actually increased by nearly 20% with most of the growth coming from the oil and gas sector in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Hamilton council declared a climate emergency in late March and ordered establishment of a multi–department task force to report by June on how to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a carbon–neutral city by 2050. Burlington’s resolution also asks for a June staff report and directs them to “apply a climate lens to the plans and actions of the City of Burlington including the council strategic work plan and future budgets.”
On April 26 Toronto joined a growing movement that seeks to hold fossil fuel companies financially accountable for the consequences of climate change. Staff have been directed to report by the end of the year “on the long term cost implications of climate change to City of Toronto’s infrastructure and programs, and any legal avenues to pursue compensation for these costs from major greenhouse gas emitters.”
Councillor Mike Layton pointed to the damage extreme weather has caused: “According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the Greater Toronto Area has had six ‘100 Year Storms’ since 2005. These storms are a direct result of climate change and the resulting flooding has come with escalating costs to both taxpayers and insurers.” New York City and San Francisco are already pursuing legal action against large oil companies.
Stories are summarized from
CATCH News, a service of
Citizens at City Hall available from CATCH@Cogeco.ca. More information can be found at www.hamiltoncatch.org