Opinion » Editorial

Time for action



On Monday night, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Geoff Regan, approved an emergency debate on the United Nations' recent climate-change report.

The debate came after requests from members from the Liberal, NDP and Green parties over the last several days.

The Members of Parliament were driven to take action after the latest UN report found that the world's most stringent climate-change goals would not be met without serious political action from leaders around the world.

As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, Canada committed to reducing emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels. To mitigate the effects of climate change on the environment, the report found that global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero to keep warming within the recommended 1.5-degree-Celsius range. 

Right now, the world is on track to increase temperatures between 2.7 and 4 C.

So my question is this: Why are our local leaders not taking action as well?

Whistler has always engaged on environmental issues and in 2016, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) produced a comprehensive Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP).

The plan stated that the RMOW would create a Climate Action Coordinator position on municipal staff to lead the coordination and implementation of this CECAP and related energy and climate management responsibilities at the RMOW.

And it said a Climate Leadership Committee, as a select committee of council, would be established.

Neither of these things has happened.

In August, then-director of corporate, economic and environmental services Ted Battiston told council at one of its regular council meetings that staff could not take on these responsibilities because housing and transportation were top of the heap for attention.

Well, I would argue that taking action on climate change is one of the most important issues facing Whistler, and B.C. and indeed Canada.

(See related opinion column EcoLogic on page 32.)

And the Commons emergency debate should send a clear signal to our elected officials, and those about to be elected, that this issue needs to be top of mind going forward.

Perhaps this Commons debate is the signal that the RMOW was looking for. In the same CECAP report, it states: "Without the alignment and collaboration of senior levels of government through federal and provincial programs, regulations, incentives and other jurisdictional tools, as well as the continued committed leadership of the private sector, Whistler will not meet its 2020 emission reduction targets. This fact further underscores the urgency of encouraging and advocating other levels of government action on the climate challenge and leadership toward a renewable energy future."

As a tourist destination that relies on the natural environment to survive, we are at the frontlines of climate change in many respects. It's a frightening place to be. A recent report in Nature Climate Change revealed that tourism's contribution to carbon emissions is four times worse than previously thought. It suggested that the industry accounts for eight per cent of the world's carbon emissions—a figure which was previously thought to be between two and three per cent.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), by 2030, international tourists will make 1.8 billion annual trips and driving this rapid growth is the burgeoning Chinese market. The country currently accounts for around a tenth of global tourism—that will rise to almost a quarter within 12 years.

Is it time to consider buying carbon offsets when we travel? Should we be looking at offering this to Whistler tourists (Gold Standard only, please)?

We know that Whistler is going in the wrong direction when it comes to dealing with greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.

While Whistler averaged GHG reductions of about 3.8 per cent annually from 2008 to 2012, the resort has averaged a 4.7-per-cent increase in total emissions each year since 2014.

In 2017, total community emissions rose by four per cent over 2016. As such, Whistler's GHG reduction goal of 33 per cent by 2020 (compared to 2007 levels) is all but out of reach.

The big emission-reduction gains from 2008 to 2012 were largely due to "one-off" projects, like converting from piped propane to natural gas and the landfill cap and capture project.

Tackling the perennial emitters has proven more challenging. In 2017, passenger vehicles produced the most emissions locally at 57 per cent, followed by natural gas consumption at 33 per cent. This has been the trend over the last several years.

Our mayor-elect Jack Crompton had this to say about the CECAP report to council in August: "This is a sobering report, and with our current context I think it's incumbent on us to do things differently in response."

We are looking forward to what that looks like after Oct. 20.


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