‘A great day’: Surrey council unanimously declares a climate emergency

Across B.C., more than two dozen cities, towns and districts have backed climate emergency motions this year

Councillor Steven Pettigrew said it was “a great day for climate and the environment” Nov. 4 as Surrey council voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency, joining more than two dozen cities, towns and districts in B.C.

A recommendation to do so came from the city’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC).

In September, ESAC passed a recommendation that Surrey City Council “declare climate change as an emergency and direct staff to review the City’s climate change targets in the context of the latest research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming.”

This report calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Pettigrew, who chairs ESAC, said it “was an exciting process to be part of, there’s so many people involved and working to try to put this together and make this happen. Very, very exciting.”

Pettigrew has a particular passion for environmental preservation and climate action and has spoken out about the need to bring awareness to climate change and the climate emergency.

“I feel like I’ve been able to contribute something.

“I felt, as many people did, quite discouraged once the road was put through the park,” he added, referring to trees being felled to construct a street through Hawthorne Park in 2018. It was a decision he strongly opposed, even leading a group against the effort prior to running for office last fall.

“So it was nice to be able to move forward and to know we can still continue to press forward to raise awareness on the environment and to make significant changes,” Pettigrew remarked. “And the people involved in Hawthorne movement, they haven’t stopped loving the environment or trees or squirrels.”

READ ALSO: Burnaby is latest Metro Vancouver city to declare climate emergency

SEE MORE: Langley Township council acknowledges climate emergency

READ ALSO: Abbotsford council declines to declare climate emergency

Pettigrew said he was pleased to see a “significant turnout from the community” in support of the declaration, estimating 10 to 12 environmental groups were represented in the audience.

Pettigrew said council passed two other environmentally focused reports Nov. 4: An update to Surrey’s Community Climate Action Strategy and the finalized Surrey Coastal Flood Adaption Strategy.

“The declaration of the climate emergency just added additional weight,” he said.

Allison Richardson of the Surrey for Future group was in council chambers and said she was thrilled to unanimous support for the declaration.

“We weren’t sure which way it would go, but we have worked really hard to show our support by writing letters, sending emails, meeting with councillors, we even had an event where kids and adults did artwork and we delivered that to city hall, too, and it was distributed to councillors,” Richardson said.

“We put a lot of effort into showing the community support for it and it was really wonderful to see council united on the issue and really understanding the importance of it.”

Richardson said she’s pleased to see so many youth involved in the push.

“Over 70 people came last night to council and many of them youth. Youth are leading the way in many areas on this, and that’s also true in Surrey.

“The Climate Clock group was founded by high school students, totally made up of high school students. Camp We Empower works a lot with youth, so it’s just awesome to see all the generations and people of all backgrounds coming together over this issue.”

Richardson quoted UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, who has said “cities are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost.”

Now that council has shown its support, Richardson said she will be watching to see what staff recommends after reviewing targets in the IPCC.

“Staff need to do that review and come back, and formalize those targets, so there’s still more to be done on this.”

Across B.C., more than two dozen cities, towns and districts – including the Burnaby, Victoria, Smithers and Regional District of Central Kootenay – have backed climate emergency motions since the start of the year.

The Climate Emergency Declaration movement began in Australia in 2016 and its website says 990 jurisdictions in 18 countries have joined, a leap of nearly 250 jurisdictions since early July.

Canada’s House of Commons declared a climate emergency in June and almost 450 local governments across Canada are also listed on the climate emergency website.

Files from Canadian Press

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