Making Sense Of Peterborough’s Climate Emergency Declaration

Dana Jordan

BILL EEKHOF – Peterborough high school student Dana Jordan believes meaningful action is needed to address the climate crisis. So, she wants to pursue a career in science, politics or law to further climate action efforts.

“I am very worried about climate change,” Jordan admits, “but as (Swedish climate activist) Greta Thunberg has said, ‘you need to keep hope with you…’ Every small action makes a difference.”

Jordan is pleased to see her hometown acting, with Peterborough City Council’s decision last fall to declare a climate emergency. For Jordan, who was among those lobbying council for such a declaration, it’s “a progressive step,” a “catalyst” for local action against climate change.

She is well-positioned to help, as a member of the Peterborough Environmental Advisory Committee (PEAC). The PEAC advises City Hall on combating climate change, while furthering environmental sustainability. “It’s a process,” Jordan notes, “but at least we’re not procrastinating.”

Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien agrees, calling the declaration a response to public concerns and desire to see the City show leadership on climate change. As she tells the Greenzine: “I think it’s fair for residents to expect meaningful action from Council as a result of this declaration.”

In noting “climate change is the greatest crisis of our times,” Peterborough’s Climate Emergency Declaration calls on City staff, working with the PEAC, to report on ways to: speed up actions and proposals to reduce Peterborough’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHC); incorporate a “climate change lens” in all City actions with an eye to cutting its GHC emissions by 45% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050; work with other levels of government and private sources; and engage local residents to help support these goals.

City staff will report back to Council on possible actions and costs by the end of March 2020.

Mayor Therrien is pleased the PEAC can provide guidance, but knows it will take a total team effort. “The challenges and resources needed to respond to the climate crisis have to come from everyone in the community pulling together and committing to making the necessary changes,” she adds. A new channel for community input is on the City website at

In the mayor’s mind, readying Peterborough for more severe weather events tied to climate change is the most important – and feasible – thing council can do. This requires the City and broader community to consider environmental impacts of climate change on infrastructure and planning decisions.

She also sees ways to reduce travel-related GHG emissions by: improving active transportation and ride sharing, and updating planning rules that direct housing/development to existing built-up city areas.

While the City invests in stormwater management, cycling lanes and a kitchen organics program, money is needed to follow up on the climate emergency declaration, says Guy Hanchet, president of local climate action group, For Our Grandchildren. “If (City Council) is serious about following through on this declaration, they have to get out of potholes and into climate action,” he says.

That may be challenging, as Peterborough faces picking up millions in extra costs in 2020 due to provincial downloading. But Hanchet says this can be addressed by prioritizing spending, seeking partnerships in green programs (like an energy-efficiency home retrofit program), and implementing an environmental surtax on higher-valued properties to help fund climate action initiatives.

Fred Irwin of Transition Town Peterborough (TTP), believes public input is also essential. “We, the citizens, have to bring meaning to the declaration and bring forward to the City what we want to do,” he says. TTP intends to do this by seeking municipal support for its Resilience Imperative/ Ptbo2030 a set of actions reflecting the interconnectedness of energy, environment, economy and social equity in Climate Emergency responses designed to help neighbourhoods use less energy, keep money circulating in Peterborough, and support more local food consumption.[SEE Greenzine centrespread.]

To fund resilience efforts, TTP suggests that the City set aside 1% of its municipal operating budget in 2020, slowly increasing it to 2% by 2030. “If we can’t afford 1% in 2020,” he notes, “then we need to stop talking about a climate emergency as if it meant something real in the way of delivering action.”

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