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Wellesley council declares a climate emergency

Wellesley has officially recognized that the municipality is facing a climate emergency, a situation that requires bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Meeting Tuesday night, councillors voted unanimously to approve the decision, adding the township’s voice to a chorus of more than 1,000 municipalities globally that have taken the same stance. 

“We’re already in a danger zone with temperature rise, it’s not a future tense thing anymore – we’re living it,” Kai Reimer-Watts, a volunteer at RISE Waterloo Region, told councillors. “The system is changing around us very rapidly. It’s important to understand the urgency of a situation that goes along with that.”

The planet has already surpassed the safe zone of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, said Reimer-Watts. Science suggests that the ideal global average atmospheric carbon dioxide is around 350 parts per million (ppm) – the global average is currently more than 400 ppm.

He said that aggressive action was necessary to minimize the damage; the goal set by Climate Action Waterloo Region is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Such targets are in keeping with the township’s own goals, as it’s been reducing its carbon footprint, noted chief administrative officer Rik Louwagie.

“The Township of Wellesley is dedicated to greenhouse gas emission reduction,” he said.

“Some of the things we’re currently undertaking and have been doing for a number of years – the energy conservation demand management plan, which outlines that the township will continue to reduce our total energy consumption and associated GHGs.”

Other actions included the installation of two electric vehicle charging stations (if federal funding is approved), planting 350 trees at the corner of Queen’s Bush and Hutchison roads, converting all street and arena lights to L.E.D., installation of solar panels on townships roofs, and geothermal heating in the municipal office when it was first built.

Along with the declaration, staff have been directed to take further action, starting with an issue paper to outline how a carbon budget could use existing corporate carbon inventory data to support the reduction of the overall carbon footprint.

When the traditional financial budget is formed, the carbon budget would then be added to the mix. The purpose is to evaluate the exact amount of emissions from each township feature, and treat emissions like a limited resource.

“The carbon budget is going through your operational budget and saying ‘our fleet of vehicles not just cost us this much to operate, but this many emissions to operate,’” explained Andres Fuentes, an international climate communications consultant who joined Reimer-Watts as a delegate to council.

“That way, each year you can see what your total emissions are as a corporation and hopefully reduce them every year as per whatever the target in your plan is.”

In addition to the inclusion of a carbon budget, Ward 2 Coun. Herb Neher asked what individual actions could be taken to fight climate change.

Among Fuentes’ suggestions were electric vehicles, buying local, driving less, planting more trees, and protecting trees on one’s property.

“A lot of what you can control … is really a small portion of it, unfortunately,” said Fuentes. “For example, to drive less, we need better transit. That’s a system issue. That’s why we’re going to governments to try to get action on this.”

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