City environment committee supports fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

A climate vulnerability and risk assessment detailed global climate change, extreme heat and extreme weather events as risks requiring action in the next three years.

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Idling, fossil fuels and the City of Ottawa’s climate resiliency strategy headlined the agenda at Tuesday’s environmental protection, water and waste management committee meeting.

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Councillors and community members discussed the impact of steadily increasing temperatures and extreme weather — such as the May 21 derecho that rocked Ottawa — on city infrastructure and other assets, joining an international treaty for the phase-out of fossil fuels and changing the city’s idling fines.

A climate emergency was declared more than three years ago to affirm the city’s commitment to abating climate change, but, in the years since, only a handful of tickets have been doled out for idling, although the maximum fine for idling was increased from $100 to $1,000 in February in response to the influx of vehicles clogging Ottawa’s downtown core from the “Freedom Convoy.”

Fuel emissions in Ottawa were also a critical subject of the committee meeting, as a climate vulnerability and risk assessment detailed global climate change, extreme heat and extreme weather events as risks requiring action in the next three years.

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The city’s climate resiliency strategy project lead, Julia Robinson, says the average temperature in Ottawa is expected to increase by 1.3 C in the 2030s, with winters becoming four weeks shorter and spring arriving two weeks earlier.

Such seasonal variability is of concern because of the risks of new and intensified illnesses such as Lyme disease and West Nile, freeze-thaw damage that degrades roads and building foundations and the impacts of extreme heat, drought and humidity for low-income and homeless populations without access to air conditioning.

“We are not prepared,” said Joan Freeman of Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability. “We are not investing properly and, as a result, at this stage, the city’s prosperity and livability are at risk.”

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Coun. Catherine McKenney proposed a motion to formally endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, asking that Mayor Jim Watson urge Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support the global initiative.

The initiative seeks to prevent fossil fuel exploration and to phase out use of oil, gas and coal in favour of renewable energy as ways to mitigate climate change

Treaty initiative campaign lead Seble Samuel suggested cities had seen just the beginning of the impacts of fossil fuels.

“Cities are on the front lines of the climate crisis,” Samuel said. “They’re facing wildfires, flooding, storms, heatwaves. We’ve seen freak weather in Ottawa alone in the past few weeks that have stolen lives and put out the lights in thousands of homes.”

Although it is unclear what can be done to address fossil fuel proliferation municipally, Samuel urged Ottawa councillors to follow suit behind Vancouver and Toronto and appeal to higher levels of government to support the treaty.

“We want to create this collective pressure from below that cities can really generate,” Samuel said.

Unanimously approved by the committee, the motion now goes before full city council.

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