George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Courtenay declares climate emergency; rainforest rhinos

May 23, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

Climate change seems to dominate the news with growing frequency. This week, the City of Courtenay joined many other governments in declaring the planet faces a climate emergency.

Courtenay Councillor Will Cole-Hamilton, a champion of the city’s declaration, explained to Decafnation why he put this resolution forward.


“The IPCC tells us that Canada is heating at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Last week the UN reported that 1 million species are at risk of extinction due to climate change

“Climate change is clearly a global challenge, so what does this mean to us as a local government? Local governments have been leading the way world-wide because we are the ones who see its impact most directly.

“In Courtenay climate change will impact us in many ways. Sometimes it will be greater damage to our existing roads, buildings and other facilities – as fires, windstorms, extreme rainfall events, prolonged dry spells and increased summer temperature result in greater wear and damage. Other times it will be a matter of building new infrastructure like greater storm water capacity and flood prevention. None of this is optional, and we need to ensure that our residents and our infrastructure are adequately protected

“As a government our main challenge is to find a way to pay for this. As I mentioned in the introduction to my resolution local government is responsible for building, maintaining, repairing and upgrading two-thirds of all the government infrastructure in Canada but we receive only $.08 of each tax dollar to do it. This is a challenge at the best of times, but climate change is going to increase the burden and the costs considerably. It is simply not fair, nor is it possible, for local taxpayers to bear the full burden of these unavoidable expenses.

“Senior levels of government are providing some assistance. Just last Thursday the province committed $150,000 in provincial emergency preparedness funding to support flood risk assessment, mapping and mitigation planning. This is a start and it is appreciated. This grant will help with planning, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the cost of doing the work itself. To provide a single example, in 2013 a study by the City suggests that a ring dyke to prevent climate related flooding in central Courtenay would cost $5.8 million (a number which would surely be significantly higher today).

“Other communities throughout BC are also declaring climate emergencies and climate crises in order to emphasize the need for action. It’s not just big cities like Vancouver and Richmond, but local communities like our neighbours in Nanaimo, Powell River, the Comox Valley Regional District, Comox and Cumberland.

“Just last month a resolution was passed at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference with more than 90% support. The resolution emphasized local governments’ inability to shoulder the costs of climate change. It advocated that the province declare an emergency and support local governments in their efforts to adapt to and manage ongoing climate change.

“While adaptation is important, we are also working to reduce our city’s carbon footprint. The single-use plastics bylaw is an example, as are the four electric vehicle (EV) chargers planned for downtown Courtenay and the improvements to active transportation infrastructure like the complete street project on 5th St. But we need to do more.

“The greatest impact that we can have on carbon emissions relates to where we live and how we move around. Our new Official Community Plan (OCP) will have a lasting impact on both of these. For that reason, this resolution ensures that we consider climate change at all stages of development of the OCP.

“The resolution that was passed unanimously by Council acknowledges the real challenges facing our City as a consequence of climate change and takes concrete steps to: lobby senior governments for greater resources; ensure that we are prepared for specific emergencies such as floods and fires; authorize staff to work with other local governments to identify specific tangible actions that the city can take to address the crisis; and ensure that climate change in considered at all stages of the development of our key planning document, the OCP.

“It is said that we need to think globally and act locally. I am proud to see the City of Courtenay show determination and leadership in addressing the world’s greatest local crisis.”


Island has lost its old trees

Sometime this summer or fall, the City of Courtenay will adopt its Urban Forest Strategy as a means of protecting and enhancing its tree canopy. And many other Island communities either already have a similar strategy or are in the process of creating one.

But at the same time, our Vancouver Island rainforest is quickly disappearing, at the rate of three square metres a second. Each year, more than 10,000 hectares are clearcut. In the last 10 years, according to the Sierra Club, old growth trees were logged off an area equivalent to the size of Greater Victoria — or about 2.6 percent of the entire Island.

The Island once had about three million hectares of old growth timber. Less than 10 percent remains.

Urban Forest strategies are important and urgent. So is preserving and protected the canopy and rainforests of the entire Vancouver Island.



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