For nearly a year, London has lived in a self-declared climate emergency. But its first and so far only emergency measure is a plan, broad in its language and ambitious in its aim.
The plan, adopted on Nov. 25 last year, contains ideas and proposals that will change the city’s climate change priorities, reorienting it around a zero-emissions target for the year 2050.
The plan is a roadmap to net zero, which the policy simply describes as: "a clear city-wide net zero community [greenhouse gas] emissions target (no later than 2050, but with the intent of establishing a path to net zero GHG emissions prior to 2050).”
Staring at a lofty goal, the plan has faced alternate praise and criticism. While some argue the goal is noble and important, others say its too far outside the municipal scope.
It lists several policy options for the city, like reviewing major on-going city projects, reforestation and creating more efficient and environmentally-friendly methods of constructing residential areas.
But there is no detailed plan or laid out steps that would thrust the city towards its ambitious goal.
While the plan's critics deem net-zero emissions as an unrealistic goal, Western University professor Gordon McBean claims the contrary.
McBean, a professor emeritus at Western, has been involved with climate change legislation at local and federal levels. He specializes in climate change adaptation, focusing on extreme weather conditions, like floods and severe storms.
He has expressed his support for the policy and thinks it is a reasonable goal to set for creating an environmentally-friendly city.
However, McBean is skeptical about how the city plans to achieve its goal.
“I think we also need to focus on the adaptation side, because we’re seeing an increase in extreme weather-related events like floods, heat waves, and even freezing rain events,” said professor McBean.
City councillors have also been critical of this plan. While few have out-right denied the severity of climate change or a climate emergency, most critics feel the plan will not be successful in reducing emissions.
Phil Squire — councillor for Ward 6, which contains campus — has been critical of aspects of this policy. While he has been supportive of climate change bills in the past, he made headlines in local media for his belief that the emergency declaration was a fruitless exercise.
“Let’s look at what we’re doing, let’s see what’s working — and sending our staff off to have a lot more meetings about climate change doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.
He believes municipalities are ill-equipped to tackle such an issue. Instead, he thinks the provincial and federal governments should deal with climate policy — doubting even the phrase “climate emergency” as the city used it.
“A statement that we were declaring a climate emergency in the city of London would have very little or no effect on the particular problem,” he said.
But, McBean disagrees with this sentiment.
“They’re doing a very important first step; first two or three steps,” he explained. “There are still more steps to go.”