For more than two years, Navdeep Chhina and 15 other members of the City of Vancouver's Climate Equity Working Group worked to create a Climate Justice Charter to help guide city staff around efforts to address climate- and equity-related issues.
On Wednesday, city council rejected that charter.
"This does not feel rewarding," said Chhina. "The charter said, let's do things in an equitable way so that people who are facing the biggest burden are not the ones who are paying the biggest price as well."
The working group was created in 2020 to help inform how the city's Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) "could best consider equity either in the way policies are developed or implemented," the charter describes.
The group was expanded a year later with the "dual purpose of advising staff on the implementation" of the CEAP and co-developing the Climate Justice Charter.
The charter documents some of the lived experiences of Indigenous, Black, and people of colour, and people living with disabilities, and provides recommendations around advancing equity and racial justice within sustainability work.
Rather than setting strict guidelines, Chhina says it was created to help city staff build on current policies and develop new ones, and makes clear that climate policy cannot succeed without addressing social injustices.
Earlier this week, a motion was brought forward to implement the charter, but it was rejected by the majority-ABC-Vancouver council.
"I think the work that was prepared for us is something that we could use as one of many tools," said ABC Vancouver Coun. Mike Klassen. "But the fact is that we can't tell staff how to do their job."
Klassen said the city already has a chief equity officer and an existing equity framework strategy focused on building a more climate-resilient city.
Ginger Gosnell-Myers, a consultant on the charter and a decolonization and urban Indigenous planning fellow at Simon Fraser University, says it is not the responsibility of one person in council to ensure climate equity work is being done, but that of all staff to help residents adapt to a changing climate, including mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events.
"People are really disappointed in this decision that was made," said Gosnell-Myers, who is a member of the Nisga'a and Kwakwak'awakw Nations.
"Council is motioning to us what they think is important and what they're telling us is equity and reconciliation and climate change isn't important. We don't need to track it. We don't need to be accountable for it."
The move was also met with disappointment from councillors Christine Boyle, Adriane Carr and Pete Fry, who voted to implement the charter.
Climate equity still a top priority: councillor
Klassen says creating an equitable climate emergency action plan is still a top priority.
"We've kind of run out of time in doing symbolic gestures. We have to reach actual achievable targets," he said.
He cites work by city staff reviewing the use of renewable fuel sources and creating a framework for carbon offsets, which the city doesn't currently have.
He added the motion put forward to council by the working group seemed "prescriptive."
"The motion said that staff will do this, when in fact we know that things are continuously evolving," he said.
"We need to take tools like these, perspectives like these, and incorporate it just as we do in our work around equity."
'It feels like we're going backwards'
Earlier this week, the park board voted for the removal of the temporary bike lane to restore Stanley Park Drive to two lanes of vehicle traffic.
The board also proposed a dedicated bike lane for 2024 but that would mean cutting down trees in the park, Chhina said.
Council also voted to end the 25-cent fee for disposable drinking cups.
"Our elected officials are not being visionary, are not being leaders," he said.
Gosnell-Myers says measures like these indicate "environmental ignorance."
"This council's priorities is all about business," she said.
"It feels like we're going backwards and putting our heads in the sand at the same time."