Fredericton’s Mayor and Council should declare a climate emergency and implement the city’s energy and emissions reduction plans, according to a petition by a coalition of concerned civil society organizations living on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory.
All Fredericton residents should sign the petition, according to advocates, which tell the Mayor and Council that the time for climate action is now. Sign the petition here.
“If not now, when?” the petition asks, highlighting the urgency of the climate crisis, which will require change and action from all levels of society, including the individual, community, municipal, provincial, and federal government.
The climate crisis has been clear for decades, yet there remains a lack of urgent and concrete action from local levels of government. More than 2,000 governments at different levels have declared a climate emergency and made commitments to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate risks, while increasing health, wellbeing, and economic opportunities for urban citizens.
This crisis and the inertia and inaction at all levels of government is one reason behind the petition.
Gail Wylie, a member of the Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians which helped organize the petition, explains that the petition addresses the Fredericton Mayor and Council because of the failure of the New Brunswick government to act urgently and comprehensively. This, according to Wylie, “shifted our focus to the alternative of action at the municipal level.”
Municipalities are a key player in the response to the climate crisis, according to a recent article in The Hill Times. After all, local governments have jurisdictions over buildings, transportation, waste, and land-use planning, which means municipalities can influence activities responsible for half of all emissions.
Councillor Margo Sheppard, elected in 2021 to represent Ward 1 in Fredericton, agrees with this approach. Billions of federal dollars flow through the Federation of Canadian municipalities, which gives municipal governments across the country a pivotal role in mitigating and adapting the climate crisis.
People support a strong municipal role in the response to the climate crisis, according to the Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) published by the City of Fredericton in May 2021. In the report’s survey, 68 per cent of respondents felt it critical that the City of Fredericton take action to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, while 83 per cent of respondents supported action by the City to achieve emissions and reduce energy use.
Fredericton has released two other climate change plans besides the CEEP, the Adaptation Plan, and the Corporate Energy and Emissions Plan. The Adaptation Plan looks at how the city can address risks and build resilience to the challenges presented by climate change. The Corporate Energy and Emissions plan “encompasses the actions planned for GHG emissions coming from the Municipal Government of Fredericton operations,” according to Sheppard.
The Community Plan, according to Sheppard, is “for the community as a whole, such as emissions emanating from the [individuals, residences, institutions, and businesses].”
Members of the Environmental Stewardship Committee, for which Councillor Sheppard serves as Vice-Chair, and other stakeholders, think the three plans are a good start, but insufficient.
The greenhouse gas reductions contained within the plans are too weak, according to the Environmental Stewardship Committee. The Committee announced plans to improve the targets in February 2022, to ensure they were in line with the international targets set at the COP26 conference.
The Corporate and Community Plan targets an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 2000 levels. Yet, 30 per cent of the reduction relies on carbon offsets, that is credits for emissions reduction made by one party, which are sold to another to compensate for their emissions.
Critics argue carbon offsets can “buy us time… they aren’t a ticket out of the hard … work needed to address climate change at a global scale.”
“We need to get entirely off fossil fuels and rely as little as possible on ‘offsets’ whatever they may be. And we need to protect our citizens as much as we can from the various shocks we are going to be getting as a result of climate change,” says Sheppard.
The City’s plans and action must be more ambitious and striving to get to net zero in the 2040s is not unreasonable, says Sheppard.
Another problem with Fredericton’s existing climate plans is that they do not account for all greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Corporate Plan does not include emissions from high-carbon activities conducted by contractors under the direction of the City,” says Sheppard. “This includes roadway and trail paving, which is usually done by third parties. So basically emissions from the approximately $25 million spent annually on capital construction are not included.”
Aside from weak targets and incomplete accounting for the municipality’s true emissions, advocates have identified several other barriers to effective climate action at the municipal level. One of them is staff capacity.
The Council of Canadians encourages the city to hire and fund “dedicated staff to drive programs forward and report to Council.” Sheppard echoes this suggestion and has been advocating for the City to create a new role with a climate-specific mandate. A Corporate and Community Energy Emissions Manager would provide a central focus and authority within the City structure to help realize action and accountability for meeting emissions reductions targets.
Sheppard applauds the work being done by the City’s Environmental Specialist and their team but thinks staffers already “[have] so many things already on their plates, it is difficult for them to be single-minded about climate.”
The City also lacks specific programs and funding.
“It is my belief as both citizen and Councillor that the urgency of the situation demands a big uptick in [the level and intensity] of this activity—both in adaptation and mitigation,” says Sheppard. “The time for plans and reports is over. We have the plans, we now need to carry them out, then we need to go further.”
This sense of urgency, and this desire for urgent action is echoed by the groups behind the petition.
Wylie calls for “specific programs, funding and a critical-path plan to implement them, [to be] put in place.” She critiques the tendency to “silo decision-making” and advocates for the application of a climate change lens to all decision-making within the Municipality.
The lack of urgency, the sidelining of the climate crisis from other municipal policies and programs, is one reason the petition calls on the City to declare a climate emergency.
The executive summary of Fredericton’s Community Energy and Emissions plan mentions the campaign, stating that “across the globe, municipalities have responded by declaring a climate emergency, acknowledging the need to prioritize climate action.”
Former Mayor Mike O’Brien and Council ignored calls to declare a climate emergency in the past. The advocates behind this new petition hope a grassroots mobilization will create political will so that Fredericton joins the 2,000 governments that have declared a climate emergency.
They hope that the petition can “alert grassroots citizenry to the practical potential for municipal action to help address the climate emergency … and create a better supportive social climate for Council to act, including assigning tax dollars to projects,” says Wylie.
The issue of who is responsible for funding programs and action to address the climate crisis is another significant barrier to climate action. Wylie explains that there is a “reluctance by Fredericton Council to address issues that fall explicitly under provincial jurisdiction.”
Sheppard offered a fresh take on this jurisdictional battle, stating that action on the climate crisis is “not [an obligation] of one level of government, but of all levels and municipalities are where people will look first for assistance.”
When asked how residents can most effectively advocate for action on the climate crisis at the municipal level, Sheppard replied that “the best way for citizens to create political pressure is to phone or email their ward Councillors.”
Julia Hansen (she/her/elle) is a community advocate for social, environmental, and reproductive justice and an occasional contributor to the NB Media Co-op.