Peterborough City Council Declares Climate Emergency

A promotional image from Extinction Rebellion Peterborough ahead of Monday September 23’s City Council meeting. Image via Extinction Rebellion Peterborough on Facebook.

Peterborough Council passed a Climate Change Emergency Declaration. In a packed council chamber on Monday September 23, I waited in an overflow room to watch a historic moment. Our politicians listened to young people including Trent University students on the importance of passing a Climate Change Emergency Declaration immediately on an emotional night. Students at Trent University and Fleming College will learn about the effects of climate change. Examples include increased flooding, drought, biodiversity loss and food insecurity which were all referenced by delegations. Each of these effects are said to get worse if climate action is not taken seriously.

Many of the presentations on the climate declaration were from high school students who are worried about their futures. One example came from Monica Parajka, who said, “We’re on our way to the 6th mass extinction [event]… I’m only 17.”

Another student, Nico Ossa-Williams, said that climate change is an emergency today and referenced experiences from Chile where there is a bad drought. Community members in the audience showed their hands like jazz hands, instead of clapping, which they did after presentations on climate due to the amount of delegations.

The Climate Change Emergency Declaration was near the end of the agenda, but before then, councillors debated urban chickens and two affordable housing projects. A pilot project to allow urban chickens were said to reduce greenhouse gases as local food would be encouraged by a couple of presenters, but this was voted down due to concerns over health and predators.

When the debate about renovating two homes that the city owns for housing, part of the debate focused on whether or not houses would be torn down. In the overflow room, someone asked why these houses were to be torn down. The answer given was that these homes were blocking the path of the Parkway. City staff explained that there were no plans to tear the houses down, and that an environmental study would need to be completed on a North/South route. While the approval of retrofitting homes for supportive housing was granted, there was evidence of a car-centric viewpoint that does not support the severity of a climate emergency.

Eventually, the Climate Change Emergency Declaration motion and debate came. Many people used jazz hands when Councillor Clarke moved a motion to change the Emergency Declaration to immediately, as City Council had previously planned to declare the emergency in the new year. However, there was concern raised by Councillor Riel that an immediate emergency declaration would bypass the recently formed Peterborough Environmental Advisory Committee (PEAC). Councillor Riel’s comment was met with jeers, to which he responded by listing environmental accomplishments of previous councils and the older generation. Councillor Akapo said that it was important to put money where our mouth is.

Debate also centred around the legislation which was to be used in declaring a climate emergency, but was passed unanimously to cheers and celebration as the crowd entered the hallway. Over the next few days the actions of our government will be shown and we will know if the government listened to its constituents in a time of emergency.