Saint John Council passes climate action plan, declares climate emergency

The City of Saint John will aim to be carbon neutral by 2040, after common council passed a new climate action plan on Monday night.

“The City of Saint John has signaled that we’re obviously in a time of climate emergency, that we need to take action and that the city of Saint John is going to play a leading role in the nation, certainly in the region,” said Mayor Don Darling on Tuesday.

“I think absolutely as we continue to evolve and innovate and new technologies come about … that addressing these issues are going to identify opportunities for the city. Hard savings but other opportunities as well as we continue to adapt.”

In addition to the 2040 target, the plan also calls for a 30 per cent reduction in city emissions by 2025 and a 18 per cent reduction in community greenhouse gases by 2035 below 2015 levels.

In order to accomplish these targets, the plan sets out several initiatives including; the purchase of two electric vehicles and buses in 2020, an idle-free policy for city vehicles, as well as expanding Saint John Energy’s solar and wind capacities.

The motion also included a declaration of climate emergency, an important symbolic piece that protesting high school students called for outside city hall last week.

“We’ve laid out a series of actions that the city and staff will take over the next number of years to show leadership in adapting to climate change, but again, as I said, continuing to explore and pursue economic opportunities as well,” Darling said.

The plan also sets out the intention to include climate change impacts and mitigation measures in all future council decision as well as a review of vulnerable infrastructure that may need to be moved, or improved, in the coming years.

“Where are we going to be in a hundred years from now? What parts of the city are vulnerable? What changes do we need to make? We’ve included [all that] in our asset management plan,” Darling said.

“So all infrastructure decisions moving forward are going to look at the impact of climate change on those decisions.”

Graeme Stewart-Robertson of ACAP Saint John says the plan is a great first milestone for the city.

“I think that there is a lot of room for addition within these plans but that’s built right into it, there’s a structure of governance built right into it to go back and look at deliverable and make continuous improvement,” he said.

ACAP Saint John is also working on a climate adaptation plan for the city that will help guide development policies and look at how the city can become more climate resilient. The final report is expected to come before council in March 2020.

While most of the plan concerns itself with finding efficiencies and limiting the use of fossil fuels by the city, in order to be successful from a community standpoint the plan will need to create an environment where the people living in Saint John are able to make green choices.

“This is really following the model that we can do what we can, as government, as staff within the city of saint john to say we’re changing our practices and reducing our greenhouse gasses and creating efficiencies, but we need to create the conditions where the community can as well,” Stewart-Robertson said.

“So that’s supporting programs that encourage people to do everything from use clotheslines instead of driers, to making better transportation choices.”

Stewart-Robertson added that as the city’s fleet is upgraded to electric cars, more charging stations will need to be available, which, in turn, will make it easier for those interested in buying an electric vehicle themselves.

The plan is slated to bring big savings to the city as well. About $44 million is expected to be saved over the next 21 years as the plan is implemented, which fits into the city’s ambitions to put their financial house in order.

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