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New Westminster takes "seven bold steps" to tackle climate change

It’s not business as usual in the City of New Westminster. On Monday, city council endorsed a climate action framework for the city’s 2020 budget process, which aims to move the city toward a zero carbon future.
New Westminster city hall
Survey says: New Westminster city council is seeking feedback as part of the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not business as usual in the City of New Westminster.

On Monday, city council endorsed a climate action framework for the city’s 2020 budget process, which aims to move the city toward a zero carbon future. One aspect of this plan would see the city prioritizing climate emergency initiatives over non-climate-related priorities in the five-year financial plan, including reallocation of capital where necessary.

Council also endorsed “seven bold steps” to be taken by the city in response to the climate emergency. These initiatives are intended to move city toward meeting the greenhouse gas targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“It’s not business as usual any longer,” said Lisa Spitale, the city’s chief administrative officer. “Our responsibility as staff is to make that as transparent as possible.”

These are the seven areas the city plans to tackle to address the climate emergency:

* Carbon-free corporation – the city will reduce its overall carbon footprint and will strive to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

* Car-light community – the city will accelerate the targets in the master transportation plan for mode split, with the goal of making 60 per cent of all trips within the city  to be made by sustainable modes of transportation (walk, transit, bike, multi-occupant shared) by 2030. (Currently, 40 per cent of trips are by sustainable modes.)

* Carbon-free homes and buildings – by 2030, the city wants all new and replacement heating and hot water systems to be zero emissions.

* Pollution-free vehicles – by 2030, the city aims to have 50 per cent of kilometres driven by New Westminster registered vehicle owners to be in zero emission vehicles.

* Carbon-free energy – the city will invest in a smart electrical grid and accommodate the required rapid conversion to building and vehicle electrification.

* Robust urban forest – the city will increase its urban forest canopy to 27 per cent by 2030 to support the removal of 4,050 tonnes of carbon pollution annually and increase its forest’s carbon storage capacity by 50 per cent. (The city’s previous target was 27 per cent by 2035.)

* Quality people-centred public realm – a minimum of 10 per cent of today’s street space that currently only serves motor vehicles, excluding transit, will be reallocated for sustainable transportation or public gathering by 2030. The natural environment will be integrated with the public realm.

Several residents applauded the city’s efforts to take strong action to tackle climate change.

“I think this is going to set a really wonderful precedent for what we should expect in terms of concrete, ambitious climate leadership from all the municipalities in the Lower Mainland, Canada and globally,” said Katelyn Maki, organizer for Force of Nature in New Westminster. “I really hope that other cities in the Lower Mainland will be looking at these seven aspirational bold moves that you have set and laid out, and are going to aim to do the same in the future.”

New West resident Christopher Bell said the city needs to implement a meaningful consultation process regarding the financial plan, so it can fully explain the dramatic shifts in spending the city may be introducing to meet its climate change commitments.

“The people who are paying the taxes have to have an understanding of why,” he said. “You need a public engagement plan that’s far more comprehensive, that’s far more detailed, far more expansive than at the present time, as we look at the new realities around us.”

Cheryl Lewis suggested the city’s communication plan should focus on the positive but deal realistically with the challenges. She noted she has reduced her personal carbon footprint by 33 per cent.

 “I am acutely aware of the changes that are required to do that,” she said. “Some were challenging and were sacrifices, but most were deeply satisfying.”

Colleen Ponzini, the city’s director of finance, said the climate action framework will guide staff’s efforts to align city resources with council’s directions and will help drive the 2020 budget process, including consultation on the budget.

 “We know that it’s going to have an impact on how we do things today,” she said. “What we intend is to come forward to council on Nov. 25 with some information about a proposed 2020 to 2024 capital budget. That will include risks and consequences of making such changes, so that council and the public can weigh in on those consequences and risks, as we start to develop the next five-year financial plan.”

As the budget process unfolds, the city will also have discussions regarding the impact that the climate action initiatives will have on the city’s operations – and its operating budget.

In mid-2020 or early 2021, Ponzini said staff will prepare a comprehensive review of the long-term implications of making these shifts in spending.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said people of all ages are concerned about the climate crisis, and the city needs to ensure all residents understand the work that will be done and the journey the city is taking.

“Although I am proud of the seven bold steps, and I think it’s important to set those steps and set the targets, we are not at the point where can be patting ourselves on the back,” he said. “I think more work is still ahead, and I think having that community engagement and community activism is going to be so important as we continue forward.”

Cote said the city has an ability to build a better community and to be a leader by demonstrating to other communities that these types of actions can be successful, can be supported and can be done.

“I know this journey isn’t going to be an easy one, but it is one that I am certainly very excited to take on,” he said.

Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said the city needs to bring people along on the “climate crisis journey” because there are still a lot of people who don’t think it’s coming or don’t think it’s coming as quickly as it is.

“We have to … really make them understand that this isn’t in our great-grandchildren’s future, this is the present,” she said. “It is a crisis, and we have to address it at that scale.”

Coun. Patrick Johnstone said the seven bold steps won’t only address climate change, but will make the community a better place to live by having less pollution, fewer cars on the road, more efficient housing and more greenspace.

“These are all good things,” he said. “If we weren’t in the middle of a climate emergency, these would still be good things to do. I think that’s got to be part of the messaging about what we are doing in the community.”