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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Owen Sound Council Directs Staff To Produce Climate Change Report

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

Unanimous approval of motion for report detailing how city might deal with climate change, meet global emissions targets.

(Sonja Ostertag, back, and several youth from Fridays For Future who spoke to Owen Sound council) 

Owen Sound council is taking a closer look at how it can deal with climate change and help meet global emissions reduction targets.

Around 50 climate activists from a group that has been holding climate strikes in Owen Sound since March -- Fridays For Future Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound -- jammed the city's council chambers Monday night in a call for action and left in jubilation after council approved a motion committing to consider steps it could take to help combat climate change.

Coun. Richard Thomas introduced a motion passed unanimously by council directing staff to prepare a report detailing actions the city might take to deal with climate change, including a suggested course of action detailing how to meet United Nations emissions targets of 45 per cent by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.

A loud round of applause from the climate activists roared through council chambers following the approval of the motion.

The council resolution came after Sonja Ostertag, a parent supporter of Fridays for Future Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, and several youth involved in the movement spoke to councillors and urged them to declare a "climate emergency". The group also submitted a petition to council with over 670 signatures in support of a declaration.

Fridays For Future held its first climate protest on March 15, 2019 and has regularly occupied the sidewalks outside of city hall in Owen Sound for several climate strikes since, often on dates in unison with national and global movements urging action on climate change from political leaders.

Council did not yet adopt the language of declaring a "climate emergency" as other nearby municipalities such as Meaford, Grey Highlands and West Grey have done recently. But the action taken by Owen Sound councillors was even more welcomed by Ostertag, who shed tears of joy following the decision.

"We don't need more talk. We need action," Ostertag says. " ... The plan is the first step. A climate emergency, if that would help us to get there, that would be wonderful. But, I don't think we need to declare a climate emergency to reach those targets."

Ostertag says she's been fighting for action on climate change for 10 years and feels this is the first time she has been part of a breakthrough. 

"For Owen Sound to make a motion for a report that would actually look at how we could achieve the (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's) recommended targets is huge," Ostertag says. "I think they've really shown their leadership and commitment to the youth."

Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy says the city has received "a lot" of emails and correspondence from various people with very strong opinions on climate change.

"We understand their concern. We agree with their concern," Boddy says. "We need to have a measured, balanced approach that takes in all the issues and our abilities in the community as we move forward ... I'm confident we'll come back with a declaration and a plan to move forward."

Boddy notes the environment is one of the four pillars of the city's strategic plan drafted in 2015. He says the city has already undertaken many "green" initiatives in recent years. LED street lighting, installing solar panels on municipal properties, upgrading the wastewater treatment plant, making energy efficiency improvements to city hall during the rebuild and installing ice-making equipment at the Julie McArthur Regional Recreation Centre that re-captures heat and uses its to warm the indoor pool are just a few of those Boddy points out.

"There's been a whole bunch of things that have been done over the years by the city," Boddy explains. "We're really far ahead of a lot of other municipalities our size."

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