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Squamish council incorporates climate goals in Official Community Plan

The bylaw strengthens the municipality's ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Surasak SuwanmakeSquamish council
There were also three pieces of written correspondence from the public, all of which were supportive of the motion.

The District of Squamish has adopted a bylaw that enshrines greenhouse gas reduction targets in its Official Community Plan, or OCP.

At the same time, that bylaw also integrates a regional context statement that aligns it with the values of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District's Regional Growth Strategy.

This includes language encouraging compact and sustainable communities, improved transportation, affordable housing, and renewable energy, among other things.

On July 26, council voted unanimously in favour of granting the bylaw third reading and adoption following a public hearing on the matter.

The main highlight of this motion is that it adds in a section that sets goals for the municipality to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with the latest values set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] to limit warming to 1.5 C, or other more stringent science-based metrics."

Officials said this wording would keep carbon reduction goals current, even if the IPCC updates its targeted reductions.

In July 2019, the District council declared a climate emergency, saying that action needed to be taken to reduce municipal carbon emissions in accordance with IPCC targets. The District later formulated a community climate action plan to meet these goals.

This latest move to embed carbon reduction goals in the OCP further strengthens the District's ambitions to reduce its carbon footprint.

"The important factor for me is that if a future council wants to take this language out of the OCP, it's a public process. Before, this was just a strategic plan initiative from this council," said Mayor Karen Elliott.

"And now we've made it part of our Official Community Plan, and I would expect that our community would come out very strongly if a future council decided to back us away from meeting our commitments around climate action. So happy this is going to be put in place before I leave office."

Before the adoption of this motion, a public hearing was held online and in council chambers that same evening.

Two people appeared before council, both of whom were in favour of the motion.

One of them, Spencer Fitschen, expressed support, but said it would be good if the amendment had stronger language with respect to pushing for renewable energy.

"The only thing that I may comment on is there is language along the lines of encouraging officials and others to pursue modes of energy that do not include fossil fuel and go to renewable energy sources," said Fitschen.

"I would recommend that if we could do more than encourage, that will be even more supportive. But again, being able to see something like this come through is very good."

Coun. Armand Hurford noted there was a reason why such language was used.

"We have limits to what we can mandate or demand in certain situations," said Hurford. "I know this council and staff have been creative in... finding where that leverage makes sense to elevate the language from that point effectively, but 'urge' and 'encourage' is where we land, sometimes just in a practical sense at this point."

The other speaker at the hearing, Jess Freeman, expressed support and noted a connection between biodiversity loss and climate change.

Freeman said she'd like to see a wildlife connectivity study included in the planning at the OCP level.

There were also three pieces of written correspondence from the public, all of which were supportive of the motion.

Coun. Chris Pettingill also backed the bylaw, but noted he felt that it was still not enough to address the climate crisis.

"I would acknowledge and I think I've praised our staff and our council for being a lot further than other communities. And so by that measurement, I think we're doing very well in setting a very good example," said Pettingill.

"But when I measure against what is required for survival, I don't think we're doing enough and I don't think it saves us the fact that we're still ahead of other people."