Written by Jeffrey Qi
BC voters are heading to the polling stations in 162 ridings this Saturday to elect their next mayors, city councillors, commissioners for various boards, and trustees for the school district – and these leaders can have a big impact on a municipality’s climate change resilience.
Municipalities in BC are responsible for providing 89% of British Columbians with direct services, making them a vital actor in many of the areas that affect our daily life. These services include parks and recreation, community centres, garbage collection, utility, firefighting, basic infrastructures, emergency preparedness planning, development and land-use planning, engineering, police services, and the list goes on and on. The decisions made by democratically-elected mayors, city councillors, board commissioners and trustees will have a huge impact on a person’s everyday life. In fact, these decisions will also make a difference in the global effort of combating climate change.
Tackling an issue at such magnitude requires actors from all levels to contribute. Climate change and its impacts, like energy and water scarcity, food security, land use change, and other environmental and societal issues, require local responses. Local governments play an important role in climate mitigation and adaptation for their ability to implement green policies and disaster reduction plans that fit local context and their role as a primary-level direct service-provider to the citizenry. Municipal government also plays a crucial role in terms of building capacity for grassroots actions and increasing resilience across sectors.
Municipal governments implement climate mitigation strategies
Municipalities are crucial in climate mitigation since their local policies will guide reductions in both community and corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The GHG emissions created by the activities of the general public are called ‘community’ GHG emissions; GHGs from activities related to the operations of a government entity are categorized as ‘corporate’ GHG emissions. Many of the services provided by local government will release GHGs into the atmosphere – and through these services there is also a large opportunity to reduce emissions.
The BC government developed the BC Climate Action Charter which asks local governments to “commit to tak[ing] actions to become carbon neutral in their corporate operations and reduce community-wide emissions by creating more complete, compact and energy efficient rural and urban communities.” Currently, 187 out of the 190 local governments in BC are signatories of the Climate Action Charter. In a 2015 audit, 31 percent of these municipalities have achieved carbon neutrality and collectively 142,991 tonnes of GHGs were reduced, balanced or offset. To meet the emissions reduction targets promised by the Canadian government under the Paris Agreement and the goals set in the Pan-Canadian Framework, municipalities’ participation is crucial for a bottom-up driven strategy that will guide Canada into a prosperous, resilient and carbon-neutral economy.
Leaders who will act on these charters and agreements will shape the future of municipalities’ climate mitigation policies like electric vehicles strategy, energy efficiency improvements, transportation planning, car-sharing, local waste strategies, carbon-pricing, new developments and land-use, and agricultural mitigation policies. Thus, we need to ensure city councils across the province will continue to strive for carbon neutrality in terms of their corporate operations and keep raising their ambition on stronger community GHG emissions reduction targets. We need to vote for people who will prioritize and implement these policies.
Local governments are vital in climate adaptation
Climate adaptation is the process of making sure all sectors of our society are ready for the predicted impacts of a changing climate. Climate change poses a serious threat to the livelihood of humanity across the world, and BC is no exception to these impacts. We are going to see more heat waves, forest fires, irregular weather patterns, biodiversity loss, invasive species, glacier melt, sea level rise, loss of agricultural land, and more. By 2050, it could be 1.8 ºC warmer year-round province-wide with an increase in annual precipitation by 6%; we will no longer see as much snow in Whistler during peak skiing season and residents in the interior will need more air conditioning during summer months.
Municipalities are at the frontline of fighting climate impacts. Every municipality’s emergency preparedness planning strategy will need to account for current and future impacts of climate change. Municipal governments are responsible for identifying these threats to human lives and livelihoods and address them either through municipal planning and actions or with counterparts at the provincial level and the federal authorities.
We need municipal officials who understand the urgency of the need for climate adaptation in our communities. We need mayors who have the long-term vision to set concrete plans to reduce overall GHG emissions. We need municipal councillors who endorse climate mitigation, adaptation and sustainable policies at council meetings. We need park commissioners who will increase the area of greenspace and urban forests. We need municipal decision-makers who will vow to fix the diking infrastructures along the Fraser River and coastal areas. We need school board trustees who will not oppose the important climate and environment-related education for the future stewards of the earth. We need municipal governments across BC to implement necessary policies to build resilience and prepare for a climate change future.
Seriously, go vote
Of course, there are more municipal issues than climate change that are concerning, like housing affordability, the recent fentanyl crisis, regional transportation planning, poverty reduction, and local property tax. Effective leadership on these issues is interlinked with effective climate change policy and action. The upcoming municipal election is a chance for us – as residents of our communities and a members of our province – to ensure the next cohort of local government leaders will have the political will of addressing the elephants in the room and ensuring the safety and viability of our communities and our common future. Voting is one important part of acting on climate change.
How do I vote in the 2018 Civic Election?
This Saturday, October 20 is voting day. You need to be on the voters list before you show up at the voting station. If you have not registered in your local voters list yet, you may find the most up-to-date information on your municipality’s website. You might also want to check voting eligibility to make sure you are eligible to vote on the day of the election. Remember, these rules may differ for each municipality. See a complete list of candidates and facts about your municipality here: https://globalnews.ca/news/4465817/live-bc-election-results-2018-ridings-candidates/.
Jeffrey is a climate action policy intern with BCCIC. His work focuses on municipal policy solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation in BC. He is also a member of the policy operations team of YOUNGO (the children and youth constituency of UNFCCC) working on the implementation of the Paris Agreement with the BCCIC Youth Delegation to UNFCCC Processes. Jeffrey is currently a third-year undergraduate student majoring in political science at UBC.
Contact him to learn more about municipal climate action: Jeffrey.email@example.com
Municipalities in BC, The Province of British Columbia: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/local-governments/facts-framework/systems/municipalities
Parker, Rhodes, and Schwartz in Environmental Health 6th Edition edited by Frumkin. From unpublished BCCIC report on municipal climate action.
Unpublished BCCIC report on municipal climate action. Citation used in the report: (C40 Cities & ARUP, 2017; Hughes, Chu, & Mason, 2018, p. 2; Picketts, Curry, & Rapaport, 2012; Ramos-Castillo, Castellanos, & Galloway McLean, 2017; Regmi, Star, & Leal Filho, 2016; UNEP, 2018)
BC Climate Action Charter, BC Climate Action Toolkit: https://www.toolkit.bc.ca/BC-Climate-Action-Charter
Unpublished BCCIC report on municipal climate action. Impact predictions by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium Plan2Adapt: www.plan2adapt.ca