Young and old gathered in council chambers Monday night to urge the city to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Following a Candles4Climate vigil that was held in honour of climate change victims who perished during the summer’s heat wave, eight local residents, including high school and university students and teachers, urged city council to endorse a moratorium on new fossil fuel development.
“Young and old – all here to make a collective effort in fighting for the sake of the environment,” said Isabella Graham, a Grade 12 student at New Westminster Secondary School. “This is your chance to do the right thing and take a step alongside us to fight this climate crisis by passing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty before it’s too late.”
Liam Mackay, a climate science student at Simon Fraser University, said statistics indicate about 60% of young people between 16 and 25 are worried about climate change; 56% of young people think humanity is doomed.
“That’s a pretty frightening number; to know about half the people my age think humanity doesn’t have hope, that’s pretty scary,” he said. “At the same time, many believe that it’s possible to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Actions can be taken, but they need to be taken now and they need to come from those in government.”
Mackay expressed concern that Canada wants to keep expanding oil production, even though it has the most emissions per capita in the G7.
“We need to start phasing out the use and production of fossil fuels, and it needs to be a just transition, with equitable, renewable alternatives,” he said. “Passing this motion won’t solve all of our problems but it’s a necessary step to reducing emissions. It’s imperative that New Westminster stand up for future generations, so the youth in the city can feel like they do have a future.”
Karen Crosby, a teacher and counsellor at NWSS, presented council with a petition signed by more than 140 people.
“When you endorse this treaty, you are saying to our B.C. and to our federal governments they need to listen to us and they need to take stronger climate action, not in five years, not in 10 years but now because we can’t wait any longer as we have seen from the weather disruption in our province in the last year,” she said.
Organizers of Monday night’s vigil on the steps of city hall said statistics show that 595 people in B.C. died in this summer’s heat-dome event, where temperatures reached a 49.6 Celsius. Of those deaths, 28 occurred in New Westminster.
Maureen Curran said the biggest uphill battle right now is convincing Canada to take real action on producing and using fossil fuels.
“We know here in B.C. that things have been absolutely tragic the last few months, and this is happening all around the world; it’s not just here. We really cannot afford to stay on this path,” she said. “The good part is that there are other options. We know that people like you have already started to make those changes, and that if we work together, we can do better.”
According to Curran, a treaty is required to ensure Canada and other countries commit to make changes regarding fossil fuels.
“We need something that is going to be binding,” she explained. “The emissions targets they have been setting have all been voluntary and they keep not meeting them.”
The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty includes three components: immediately banning expansions or new fossil fuel projects; sensibly and fairly phasing out existing fossil fuel production; and providing a just transition that protects workers and communities.
On Monday night, council unanimously supported Coun. Nadine Nakagawa’s motion to endorse the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and to write to the city’s federal and provincial politicians about the treaty. The motion also asks the Lower Mainland Local Government Association to formally endorse the call for the treaty and to send its motion to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for its endorsement.
Coun. Patrick Johnstone said there is some good work being done on climate action by some local governments, who have seen the impacts of climate inaction and climate disruption in recent months with the heat dome and flooding.
“It’s harrowing to see what’s happened over the last six months,” he said. “What we need to do here is clear. I think that’s what I liked about the wording of this resolution in that the work that we need to do is stop digging the hole that we are in. We can’t get out of the hole until we stop digging.”
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said the presence of children in council chamber served as a stark reminder that the climate crisis is not a philosophical issue, but it’s about their ability to have a future on this planet.
“The fact of the matter is that the use of fossil fuels is counter to our ability to live on this planet,” she said. “To all the young people out there, I think we have to show that we haven’t given up hope. There is still hope to have a livable planet for the future.”
Dr. Tim Takaro, a physician-scientist at Simon Fraser University who researches the health impacts of climate change, said construction of the “Kenney-Trudeau Trans Mountain pipeline” will result in increased emissions.
“Increased emissions mean increased death,” he said. “There is a direct connection between this pipeline and future climate deaths in the province and in New Westminster.”
Takaro, a New West resident, said the Trans Mountain pipeline was approved without allowing for consideration of its climate impacts.
“My interest in this treaty is that our leaders, particularly at the provincial and federal levels, are sleepwalking the climate emergency,” he said. “We have seen hundreds of deaths this summer in British Columbia. The most deaths by health authority area is here in New Westminster. In addition, this past few weeks we have witnessed flooding at unprecedented levels across the province, including floods that damaged the Trans Mountain pipeline. We can expect more of these events.”
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