Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Time is Now for Greater Sudbury to Declare a Climate Emergency

Earlier this month, the City of Kingston declared a climate emergency (see: “Why Kingston has declared a climate emergency — and what that really means,” TVO, March 7, 2019).  Kingston joins a growing group of over 300 Canadian municipalities, including Vancouver and Halifax, that have publicly stated the climate crisis deserves the utmost attention from all levels of government.  And there’s an initiative underway here in Greater Sudbury to add our municipality’s name to the list.

“We want to declare a climate emergency, essentially to give the city further impetus to act on climate as quickly and swiftly and efficiently as possible, because we know that climate change threatens our very way of life, economically, socially, environmentally," said Kingston Councillor Robert Kiley, who introduced the motion that was passed unanimously by his City’s municipal council (see: “Kingston council asked to declare climate emergency,” CBC News, March 5, 2019).

The Climate Mobilization Project defines our climate emergency as being a “cascading breakdown of the climate system due to unsustainable extractive economic and social forces, posing an existential risk to humanity and life on earth.” (see: “Climate Emergency,” The Climate Mobilization). Addressing the crisis will require vision, leadership and massive change – most of which have been missing from the global response to the crisis so far. 

The personification of the global cry for climate action is perhaps 16-year old Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg.  This Swedish high school student’s activism single-handedly gave rise to the young people’s global climate strike movement that saw thousands of Canadian school children take to the streets last week (see: “Quebec students take to streets as part of global marches against climate change,” Global News, March 15, 2019). With their very futures at stake, climate strikers around the world are demanding political leaders finally get serious about taking action to avert global catastrophe. 

“I want you to panic,” Thunberg told global economic leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year.  “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.  And then I want you to act.” (see: “Greta Thunberg, schoolgirl climate change warrior: ‘Some people can let things go. I can’t’,” The Guardian, March 11, 2019)

Declaring a climate emergency isn’t just symbolic.  It signifies an acknowledgement by  a government to actually do things differently.  It’s not about being hopeful, optimistic and aspirational, or doing one or two pro-climate things – like swapping out lightbulbs.  It means using the lens of climate change as part of a comprehensive approach to making decisions. It means asking the tough question, “Is what we’re considering going to help the climate – or harm it?”

“The rational response to an emergency is to act like it is an emergency,” Colleen Gareau of Kingston’s Climate Hub told her municipal Council (see: “City council declares climate emergency in Kingston,” The Kingston Whig Standard, March 5, 2019).

“The crisis for the Titanic was not when it hit the iceberg, it was when there was still time to turn,” says Laruentian University Professor of Economics Dr. David Robinson, who has written extensively on some of the fiscal tools governments can use to rapidly transition our economy off of fossil fuels. “The disaster for the Titanic was the result of missing the crisis. There came a time when it was too late to turn. With climate change we face a series of disasters, each worse than the last. We have passed the crisis point for the first-level disaster and the second level, depending on how you define it. Maybe we should be discussing which disasters - like 8 meters of sea level rise - we can't avoid - and which - like a billion deaths of those currently living - that we can probably still avoid.” (see: “Crisis Means Decision Point,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, March 21, 2019)

With the City of Greater Sudbury about to update to its Strategic Plan, there’s no better time for our community leaders to commit to using a climate change lens to evaluate decisions related to policy, programs and infrastructure. Citizens throughout the City are signing a petition calling on our municipal leaders to declare a climate emergency and commit to setting and meeting carbon reduction targets (see: “Sudbury letters: Declaring climate emergency; keep shelter open,” the Sudbury Star, March 16, 2019). Information about where you can sign the petition can be obtained by emailing the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury at

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "Sudbury should declare climate emergency now," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday March 23, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

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