Calgary's City Budget Needs Climate Action

The Calgary Herald recently published an opinion piece that was co-written by the Calgary Alliance, the Calgary Climate Hub and Arusha Centre. It focuses on the need to integrate climate into the city's budget.

The article can be found here.


Opinion: Calgary's city budget needs climate action now

As the smoke from the Oregon, Washington and California wildfires rolled in last month, one thing became increasingly clear: climate change is not a distant problem. It is a current catastrophe with real and immediate costs in terms of economic impact, lives lost, and environmental devastation. We are witnessing unprecedented, life-threatening destruction of natural and financial capital. And it is going to get worse.

In November, Calgary city council will address the economic challenges brought about by the triple threats of the collapse of oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. The city budget is in trouble. Money from the federal and provincial governments will help the city through this year, but — with prudent efficiency gains exhausted — the balance between spending, revenue and service is no longer sustainable.

City council prides itself on being fiscally conservative. Yet, it has not seized the opportunity to apply and accelerate climate action which will not only balance its books — by providing opportunities for investment and avoiding unsustainable expenditures — but also make our city more resilient, diversified and financially strong.

Fiscally responsible climate action avoids more service cuts that have long-term consequences for our economy and our quality of life. In particular, council needs to ensure that the most vulnerable can continue to be productive members of society. Not everyone can work from home on a video call. We cannot allow the woman coming home from her late-night shift to be abandoned on a CTrain platform, waiting for a train that never comes. The family that can’t afford a private gym membership must continue to have access to safe and healthy recreation programs.

Beginning now, city council needs to take meaningful action to do its part to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and help our city withstand extreme weather events.

Fortunately, Calgary has a plan, adopted unanimously by city council in June 2018. The Climate Resilience Strategy embraces a wide range of climate mitigation and adaptation actions addressing buildings, energy systems, transportation, land use, waste, natural infrastructure and, most importantly, city leadership. Thanks to the city’s The Economics of Low-Carbon Development report, we also have a clear understanding of both the substantial carbon and financial savings our city can achieve.

In November, city council needs to strategically invest in making the Climate Resilience Strategy a reality. For our part, Calgarians need to tell council to put an inclusive climate strategy at the top of the list for every department within city administration. Planning and development must discourage new car-dependent subdivisions and encourage communities where walking and cycling are top priorities — a direction city administration estimates would save $16 billion in avoided capital costs. The Sustainable Building Policy must usher in net-zero buildings and meaningful enforcement. Transit must continue to be an affordable and practical option and managed as core infrastructure like water and roads. Our city-owned electric utility, Enmax, should lead the world in getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Doing all those things are not just aligned with city policy. They are common sense and will ensure we create more local, durable jobs and keep up with the rest of the world in attracting new investment.

Overhauling the city budget must start now. As demonstrated in Sustainable Calgary’s 2020 State of Our City report, city council should have addressed the problem yesterday.

The cost of not taking action is more homes and businesses destroyed by floods, tornadoes and hailstorms, more people unable to go outside due to a haze of smoke, and a threat to the city’s capacity to deliver essential services. As our champion, city council has a moral obligation to build a budget that will strengthen Calgary’s economy and quality of life while helping us recover from the harm done by COVID-19, the economic downturn and climate change. Tell council to be fiscally conservative and socially responsible by acting on climate now.

Celia Lee, executive director, Sustainable Calgary; Bob Morrison, chair, Mobilize Node, Calgary Climate Hub; Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee, chair, Calgary Alliance for the Common Good; Gerald Wheatley, manager, Arusha Centre.