A coalition of groups posed a challenge to municipalities across Simcoe County to make 2020 the year of climate action.
The group says scientific consensus clearly shows we are in the midst of a climate emergency, and stressed that addressing it requires that we fundamentally rethink nearly every aspect of our day to day lives.
The group emphasized that these changes will have positive impacts, including an improvement to our physical and mental wellbeing, an increase in the efficiency of how our tax dollars are spent, and the preservation of key resources, such as farmland and fresh water.
The coalition would like to see every Simcoe County municipality declare a climate emergency and build on that sentiment to make meaningful change. An emergency declaration sends a clear message that a community recognizes what the science is saying, and that it intends to take concrete action to ensure the health and wellbeing of its citizens. This could include stronger protection of green spaces and water resources, eliminating urban sprawl, investments in transit and making our communities more pedestrian friendly. Furthermore, the group noted that it is crucial that action to address climate change be based on principles of fairness and equity, and, accordingly, that indigenous rights and work toward reconciliation form the core of the commitment to this work.
Municipalities are being placed at the forefront of this challenge for good reason. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has determined that almost 50% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are directly or indirectly controlled by municipalities. Further, recent studies by the United Nations estimate that cities consume two thirds of the world’s energy resources and account for more than 70% of the world’s carbon emissions.
Barrie Ward 2 Councillor Keenan Aylwin, who successfully spearheaded that city’s climate emergency declaration, recognizes the role that municipalities play in safeguarding public welfare in a changing climate “Many of the decisions municipalities make can vastly improve our environment and climate - whether this is ensuring people have access to efficient and affordable public transit or whether it’s changing how we develop our communities so that public money is being spent more efficiently to maximize taxpayer dollars already spent on expensive infrastructure. We must have the political courage to make bold and necessary decisions to build communities that are sustainable, financially resilient, healthy and safe. This improves our economy and environment.”
Building climate-resilient communities means building more equitable communities, too.
Margaret Prophet, Executive Director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, says that climate resilient communities provide a multiplicity of benefits, including more green spaces, access to local food and support of a thriving local agriculture system, reducing commutes and essential services and amenities easily accessed by transit, biking, or walking.
“Some may say that what we are demanding is too much and too radical," Prophet says, "but what we are talking about is communities built for all ages and abilities. We are talking about communities where you can safely walk, bike, take transit, and get the services you need. This is especially important as we grow older. Yes, this is different from how most communities are developed now, but it’s not rocket science, and it’s definitely not radical. In fact, many communities outside of Canada are already doing it.”
Dr. Brent Elsey from Barrie DOCS (Doctors on Climate Solutions) says the cost of inaction is too high. “The public health implications in Simcoe County of not dealing with climate change are immense. If we want to ensure a healthy future for all of us, especially our future generations, then we must all work together. The science is clear - without action we face droughts, floods, extreme storms and many deaths - even in Simcoe County.”
Councillor Aylwin notes it will take a partnership between residents, business leaders, and local government, but they can’t do it without the support of other levels of government either. “Cities and towns across Canada are leading the way in the fight to reduce emissions, but we need support. We need the provincial and federal governments to step up to the table, to allocate resources, and to give additional powers to municipal governments to help us tackle this crisis.”
People who are interested in helping bring climate action to their community are encouraged to visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca .
Article courtesy of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, a diverse coalition of 35 organizations from across Simcoe County and the province calling on local and provincial leaders to better protect our water resources, green spaces and farmland through smart growth and sustainable policies including expansion of the Greenbelt into Simcoe County.
Photo by Tony Bellissimo