Kingston first Ontario municipality to declare climate emergency

Voting to declare a climate emergency makes the city the first municipality in Ontario to do so. Council will now discuss different ways the city can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Kingston city council made history Tuesday evening when it passed a motion to declare a climate emergency within city limits.

The motion was brought by first-term councillor and long-time Kingston Green Party candidate Robert Kiley, and seconded by Coun. Jim Neil.

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“Now we need to deepen that commitment and have more aggressive and more measurable targets across the whole community,” says Councillor Kiley.

And although Kingston has already set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by the year 2030, Kiley says there’s an urgency for the city to come up with new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and set new climate change targets.

“We can have more people riding transit. Electrifying our transit,” says Kiley. “Making sure that we plant more trees and having an urban park with native species planted.”

According to the Kingston Climate Hub, Kingston is on track to hit a 15 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, a reduction largely thanks to the province’s move away from coal. Nevertheless, the city is not on track to meet its goal of a 30 per cent reduction by 2030.

Both Halifax, N.S., and Vancouver, B.C., have recently declared climate emergencies, as have several municipalities in Quebec, according to Kiley, but Kingston is the first to do so in Ontario.

The motion passed unanimously at Tuesday evening’s city council meeting, a vote Kiley called a “true community moment.”

According to the motion itself, declaring a climate emergency will help the city name, frame and deepen Kingston’s commitment “to protecting our economy, our eco-system, and our community from climate change.”

Although the motion is a symbolic gesture, Kiley says council is prepared to act.

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“That was the first step,” Kiley said. “We’re preaching now, but now we have to practise.”

Kiley says council is currently discussing practical ways to dramatically reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, ways that will be ironed out during strategic planning sessions slated for the end of March.

When asked if he believes each councillor was prepared to make changes that would bring about necessary reductions, Kiley says he had faith.

“Climate change affects the entire community, whether you’re on the right or the left side of the spectrum.”

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Kiley also said that despite not being able to significantly impact global reductions, climate change action has to happen on the granular level in order to happen at all.

He ended by quoting Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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