Thunder Bay Climate Crisis
Posted on: February 4, 2020
Photo of Lake Superior by Wyeth McCormick.

In 2019 Greta Thunberg hit the world by storm. People around the globe were introduced to the young Swedish climate activist who is standing up for her future. Her message and movement spread rapidly, and kids around the globe are skipping school to stand up for their future. Her message is anything, but subtle. She meets with leaders around the world to discuss the seriousness that climate change has on the future that will greatly impact her and others in her demographic. One of her tenets is for communities, countries, or anyone who is willing to take the situation seriously to declare a climate emergency and impose climate action. Greta Thunberg was declared TIMES’ person of the year.

On Jan 13 the city of Thunder Bay officially declared a climate emergency, but no particular action was determined. Residents of Thunder Bay and the surrounding area are starting to feel the effects of climate change.

Summer Stevenson, the sustainability coordinator from EarthCare dropped by the Remedial Action Plan Office to answer some questions about the climate emergency. Below is a summarized Interview:

What is a climate emergency?

In the case of Thunder Bay, it is a symbolic message that allows citizens to know that council takes things relating to the environment seriously. It will be taken into account when new policies or developments go forward. A climate emergency reminds council that the climate is something that they prioritized and allows climate to be a priority when considering and making decisions

Why did you declare a climate emergency?

The City of Thunder Bay’s Climate Adaptation Strategy was completed in 2015. This is the guiding document for climate mitigation and adaptation within the city. The EarthCare climate adaptation working group, who works to make sure that the strategy is being carried out, motioned to declare the climate emergency. The climate adaptation working group will be meeting in February to discuss the path moving forward. It gives symbolic commitment to improve stormwater planning, and infrastructure so we can reduce cleanup during wild weather events. The decision was motivated by students across the world advocating for their futures.

What risks does Thunder Bay face due to climate change?

Climate change is more than just warming temperatures it is also all about extremes such as massive rainfall, the 2012 flood affecting intercity, forest fires in the northwest, etc. We are already seeing impacts of changing climate such as the evacuees from Pikangikum from forest-fires or evacuees from melting ice in northern First Nation communities. These extreme weather events are going to make Thunder Bay a hub for other northern communities. Thunder Bay needs to consider the increasing floods and wildfires on the surrounding northern communities.

What plans of action do you see Thunder Bay taking?

We just launched the start of community energy and emissions plan that has received over $200,000 to develop an energy and emissions plan for Thunder Bay to reach net-zero carbon emission by 2050. The plan will look at best practices specific to Thunder Bay. We are currently in the stage of looking at how citizens view the emergency and climate change. This will allow us to determine what we should focus on. Anyone can participate through a survey at closes February 20th. The data collected will help pick new engagement activities in the spring and summer to reduce emissions in Thunder Bay. At these engagement activities, citizens will have the opportunity to select some of the options for reducing GHG emissions that they think would be best suited for Thunder Bay.

Does thunder bay face unique challenges?

We have finished the data collection stage (woo!). The data collected looked at residential, transit, municipal, and industrial GHG emission data. In the spring we will be given baseline estimates for each of these sectors. A baseline estimate will allow us to identify the areas with the highest amount of emissions and the most potential for reduction. For example, transit is one area that we know will have to be addressed. How can we reduce the number of cars on the road and create a more bike-friendly and walkable city? This can address active transportation and transit transportation as well as what cultural changes need to be addressed for people.

What difference can Thunder Bay make?

In the northwest Thunder Bay is the hub. Once we establish our plan we can become a leader in our part of the province to make positive changes. As well, residents can change their habits to reduce emissions. We are also at the top of the Great Lakes watershed so we can have a large impact. To draw comparison we are looking at Sudbury who has already released its energy and emissions plan (PowerNow Sudbury to help develop our plan. Some studies estimate that municipalities are capable of controlling 40-60% of their climate emissions from energy supply, transportation decisions,to land use and neighbourhood layout.

What can regular civilians do to help?

People can get involved with Earthcare with their 7 acting working groups. They can email to get connected to something that suits your interest. These working groups help facilitate some of the greening that occurs in Thunder Bay. Citizens can also consider their everyday choices such as saying no to the plastic bag, changing food patterns, and rethinking modes of travel to aid in the overall climate in Thunder Bay. You can participate in events such as the “Commuter challenge” in May/June.

What is the cost of declaring a climate emergency?

There is no cost to council. A climate emergency is symbolic and has no commitment from council to provide funds. As of right now, the cost is the energy and emission plan which is already fully funded. Regular city operations are also included in the budget.

How can declaring a climate emergency benefit Thunder Bay?

There is an advisory committee, made up of city councilors and private citizens, that meets to advise council on matters of EarthCare and the environment. The group talks to council and advises them on initiatives that support the plans that have been implemented in the city (Sustainability Plan, Climate Adaptation Strategy). The declaration keeps council accountable.

How will climate change affect Lake Superior?

Warming lake levels are a catalyst for invasive species due to warming weather from climate change. It also results in reduced ice levels. The climate emergency will also look at emissions and AOCs (area of concerns). They will support projects that help mitigate harmful impacts.

Our mission at InfoSuperior is to reduce and eliminate threats to Lake Superior, ensuring it’s appreciated for generations to come. We are committed to remediating areas of concern along Lake Superior to promote the longevity of our beautiful north shore.

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