Kamloops and Okanagan cities not ready to call climate change an emergency - InfoNews

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Kamloops and Okanagan cities not ready to call climate change an emergency

Smoke from the 2014 Smith Creek wildfire in West Kelowna is seen in this file photo. Climate change isn't an official emergency in the Okanagan yet.
July 19, 2019 - 9:30 AM

KELOWNA - It might be the end of the world as we know it, but most municipalities in the Okanagan and the City of Kamloops feel fine, or at least not ready to ring the alarm bells.

West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver councils raised eyebrows last week when they unanimously passed motions declaring climate change an emergency. It's a step other municipalities seem to be considering as the effects of a changing planet can be most visibly seen on the local level. A recent report from UBC Okanagan shows the climate change battle could cost Canadian communities $42 billion by 2050.

Kevin Hanna, a UBCO professor who worked on the report, said climate change could affect the Okanagan through drier and hotter summers that can increase wildfire risks along with more extreme floods and snowmelts.

"Surprises are going to cost us," he said.

Despite Vancouver's move to declare climate change an emergency, municipalities in the Thompson-Okanagan don't seem ready to take that step yet.

City of Kelowna communication supervisor Tom Wilson said no such motion has come to council yet and there doesn't seem to be a push to make it a priority. Laurie Cordell, manager of long-range planning and sustainability with the City of Vernon, said they aren't formally considering any emergency declarations. Philip Cooper, communication manager for the City of Penticton, said the same thing, noting that while the climate change emergency declarations are on the City's radar, there's no groundswell to make it part of the council's discussion. 

"We're aware of these proclamations," he said. "They seem to be attracting attention."

Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh, who also sits as the chair of the city's development and sustainability committee, says although he appreciates the work communities in the Lower Mainland are doing to declare climate emergencies, he doesn't see that happening in Kamloops yet.

"I think other communities on the coast have taken good steps to declare climate emergencies and I appreciate the sort of urgency it creates... but I don't think we are going to be doing that," Singh says.

While these municipalities have yet to take the plunge with an emergency motion, they do take the threat of climate change seriously. Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton all have climate action plans with specific focuses on lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The UBCO report noted Canadian municipalities are responsible for half of the country's greenhouse gas output.

Hanna noted municipalities across Canada can take an actual step toward battling climate change by employing adaptation planners. These planners help municipalities prepare for and fight against the frontline effects of climate change, such as flooding and wildfires.

While such a position doesn't seem to have taken root in Kamloops or the Okanagan, many departments across municipalities fulfill similar roles. Michelle Kam, the sustainability coordinator with the City of Kelowna, said a major goal for them is reducing energy in buildings.

"We recognize climate change," she said.

Cordell said Vernon is trying to get all aspects of city government to think about climate change instead of restricting the discussion to one department. Instead of having an official adaptation planner, they're discussing the possibility of bringing specialists onboard.

"We don't want to focus on (climate change) in isolation," she said. "We're looking at it more broadly."

No matter if climate change is officially noted as an emergency in the Okanagan or Kamloops, Hanna said everyone needs to be prepared for what the next 30 years could bring.

"There's uncertainty around what (the climate) will look like," he said.

— With files from Karen Edwards


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