A delegation representing multiple community and environmental groups urged Antigonish town and county to declare a climate emergency at a joint council meeting, June 19.
There are currently 325 municipal governments across Canada which have declared states of climate emergency.
By declaring a state of climate emergency, a government shows that it recognizes the scientific consensus on climate change and signals and climate change is not a side-lined issue, but at the centre of policymaking until the emergency has passed. However, the actions taken vary between governments, and there are no set rules for what to do and how quickly to do it.
“Imagine if we were at war, it would be a state of emergency,” Briony Edwards, who was instrumental in getting the world’s first climate emergency declared, in 2016, said.
That was the city of Darebin, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia which is where she currently lives.
“If the government declares war, then every communication they have with the public is in the context of that war. It colours every communication,” Edwards said in an interview with The News.
Public engagement between local governments in Antigonish and its citizens was one of the requests submitted to councillors on June 19. For Edwards, communicating the state of emergency is essential in the early period after a declaration is made.
“It’s going to change what you communicate and how you communicate,” she said. “At first, a lot of that is going to be about actually making clear to people that this is an actual emergency.”
Wyanne Sandler and David Morgan gave the presentation to Antigonish council on June 19th at the St. Joseph’s Community Centre. In it, they spoke about food security, sea level rise and the risk of disease brought on by warming seasons and seawater.
“What brings me here today is that I am a parent,” Sandler said. “They’re six and almost two, and I am deeply worried about their future.”
Sandler summarized the primary findings of the 2018 IPCC report which states that global emissions must fall 45 per cent below 2010 levels in the next 11 years in order to maintain a safe and sustainable habitat for the human race.
The temperature threshold which the report urges global policy makers to keep below is 1.5 C. According to the IPCC report, achieving this goal will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
More than 674 municipal bodies around the world, including three already in Nova Scotia, have declared states of climate emergency.
Sandler’s presentation localized the crisis by pointing to the effects that sea level rise projected in the IPCC report would have on the Chignecto Isthmus dividing Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, as well as on the barrier beaches between St. George’s Bay and the Antigonish Harbour.
She also pointed to the increase in Lyme disease brought on by rising blacklegged tick populations, something the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s 2019 Tick Borne Diseases Response Plan attributes to a warming climate.
“I’m here because I love and care about my children very deeply, and all of your kids and grandkids, and I’m here urging you to act for their future.”
Apart from regular communication between local governments and their constituents, what else would a climate emergency declaration mean?
“What we want to see is councils do everything they can across their portfolios to roll out programs that draw down and reduce emissions community wide, and then to build resilience in those communities,” said Edwards. “It’s not just declaring an emergency and going back to business as usual.”
In an interview, Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher said town council will be working together with the county, Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation and St. F.X. as discussions continue.
The councils did not make any immediate decision, but Boucher said it will be discussed again at the next town council meeting July 15.