Skip to main content

The Bow River flows through downtown Calgary on Sept. 29.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Calgary is the latest Canadian city to declare a climate emergency but there was concern during debate that the move could be seen as an attack on the energy sector.

By a 13-2 margin, council voted Monday to accept a recommendation to declare an emergency and to update Calgary’s environmental plan to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Council heard there are already 517 municipalities in Canada that have adopted similar measures and 2,043 worldwide.

“The cost of doing nothing is very high and we can’t afford that,” said Councillor Raj Dhaliwal, who introduced the motion.

“We want to lead by example and set up Calgary as a global centre of excellence which will send this great message to world capital markets.”

Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra called it an important step forward.

“It really sets us up for a meaningful statement about how climate resilience and a declaration of a climate emergency is critical to our city, to our province, to our country, to the world at this point in time.”

But the word “emergency” caused concern for a number of councillors, including Sonya Sharp, who wanted the declaration amended to a “Call to Action, accelerating Calgary’s climate resilience strategy.”

“Emergency’s very heavy and it’s very heavy for our citizens right now and it’s not actually the word we need to be concerned about – it’s more the actions and principles of the plan,” she said.

Mr. Carra said that thinking is too small.

“We have to play globally … not be a backwater in western civilization and kowtow to ideas that haven’t wrapped their mind as to where the globe is at,” he said.

“Calgarians are notorious for being very behind the rest of the world on climate change and so I think what we’re trying to do here is come up to speed and not stay behind the pack.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and the rest of council met earlier in the day with members of Canada’s energy sector, who had already committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Councillor Sean Chu opposed the move, saying Calgary’s oil and gas sector is already suffering through an emergency of its own.

“It seems that many people want to shut down our oil and gas industry sector but how many would actually walk the talk and stop using oil and gas in our environment? There needs to be action – not words,” Mr. Chu said.

“Why should Calgary, or Canada for that matter, bear the disproportionate cost of saving the world? We only account for 1.5 per cent of greenhouse gas.”

City administration said it would be a full year before the costs on capital and operating budgets will be known.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the name of Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.