whitehorse does hereby proclaim

Monday night's mayor and council meeting of the city of Whitehorse is not exactly prime-time entertainment. There are committee reports and bylaw amendments and the general minutiae of running a city.

Monday night’s mayor and council meeting of the city of Whitehorse is not exactly prime-time entertainment.

There are committee reports and bylaw amendments and the general minutiae of running a city.

It is all important, and to be honest it can be extremely boring.

This past Monday was a bit of an exception.

There was a public delegation on climate change.

It consisted Ken Madsen and John Streicker with about 20 supporters in the audience.

Madsen has been extremely active over the years on a wide variety of northern environmental issues including protecting the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd.

Streicker is a climate change researcher and scientist.

The two spoke eloquently about the importance of the upcoming Copenhagen talks in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There is the possibility that should these talks succeed the countries of the world will have a treaty to get greenhouse gas emissions under control and thus negate the worst impacts of climate change.

There was also mention by the delegation of the obstructionist role the Government of Canada is playing leading up to these talks.

Canada appears to not be at all supportive of the goal of a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, it looks like Canada wants the talks to fail.

At the federal level there seems to be little to no understanding that transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels will have little to no economic impacts.

Instead it looks like Canada wants to do business as usual, with continuous fossil fuel development being the future and ignoring the looming climate change environmental consequences.

Let us leave the arena of international negotiations and return to Mondays meeting.

There were follow-up questions and statements from the councillors and the mayor to the climate change presentation.

All agreed that climate change is an issue.

Some noted that Whitehorse has done some very innovative things to reduce its carbon footprint.

These range from the city-wide composting program to the implementation of the sustainability plan.

This was, however, just the start of the council session climate change discussion.

Later in the meeting Councillor Dave Stockdale introduced the following motion.

“Whereas the city of Whitehorse has already taken many concrete steps to reduce its carbon footprint through a variety of programs ranging from compost collection to development and implementation of a sustainability plan; and

“Whereas we understand that the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists is that climate change is happening more quickly than previously forecast; and

“Whereas climate change could negatively affect the city of Whitehorse in a variety of ways including:

a) A disruption in transportation routes that service the City;

b) The potential loss of regional food production: and

c) Additional stresses on city infrastructure due to increased precipitation and extreme weather events;

“Therefore, be it resolved that the city of Whitehorse urge the Canadian government to adopt carbon emission reduction targets in line with those called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: and

“That the city of Whitehorse urge the Government of Canada to sign on to and ratify the International Climate Change Treaty that will be negotiated in Copenhagen in December, 2009.”

The last paragraph caused much discussion and is what ultimately caused the motion to not be passed at Mondays meeting.

Asking Canada to sign a treaty that hasn’t even been written down is perhaps asking a bit much.

Mayor Bev Buckway also raised an important point.

Canadian municipalities emit a lot of greenhouse gases.

Think of all the buildings the city of Whitehorse owns, the fleet of vehicles it operates and the amount of methane that the landfill emits.

Canada has to get its greenhouse gas emissions down and that does not mean just at the federal level.

Individuals, businesses, provinces, territories and municipalities have to do this as well.

There is a danger that the Canadian government could commit to promising massive greenhouse gas reductions but pass that responsibility for the reduction down to the municipal level without providing adequate fiscal and technological resources.

That being said, it should not be an excuse to not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The mayor and councillors of Whitehorse seem to recognize the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

They are quite proud, and justifiably so, of some of the initiatives take so far.

But because climate change is such a pressing issue it is time to do more.

Whitehorse should pass a motion urging Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to those called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Stockdale’s motion, less the final paragraph, encompasses the issues discussed in this column.

Now the advantage of living in a democracy is that the citizens can tell their elected representatives what they should be doing on their behalf.

In this particular case it is time for the citizens of Whitehorse to ask mayor and council to pass the motion that was discussed this past Monday but without that last paragraph.

They can be reached at mayorcouncil@whitehorse.ca.

The climate change motion will be up for debate again on November 23rd.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.

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