The Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal has adopted a “historic” freeze on development in woodlands and wetlands of interest.
One of the most significant things humanity can do to save the planet from the ravages of climate change is to leave nature alone.
Protecting biodiversity is the second most effective action we can take to limit global warming according to the latest scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It’s also one of the simplest.
And yet year after year, forests are felled, wetlands are backfilled, and green space is gobbled up for commercial, industrial and residential development. A meadow is mowed down here, a marsh is paved there — and soon ecosystems that are our bulwark against human-caused climate disaster are left fragmented and fragile.
The Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) recently stepped in to curb the destruction of some of the dwindling tracts of nature across the region. Last week, it passed an interim control bylaw that will temporarily outlaw all construction, redevelopment, and work on lands of ecological value across the 82 municipalities of greater Montreal while it works to ensure more sustainable development policies.
It’s just one of a series of tough new measures unveiled to fight climate change as time runs out to avert catastrophic global warming. At Montreal’s inaugural climate summit Tuesday, Mayor Valérie Plante announced that all new construction in the city in will have to be zero emissions starting in 2025 and all buildings will have to transition to renewable energy by 2040.
The move a few days earlier by the CMM ups Montreal’s conservation goals. It will add more than 12,000 hectares of wetlands and woods to those already preserved, raising the total amount of protected territory to 22 per cent from 17 per cent.
Plante — who also heads the CMM — called the move “historic,” while Longueuil Mayor Catherine Fournier rejoiced that it will save the threatened habitat of the endangered chorus frog.
But the CMM is following the lead of some smaller municipalities who took this bold action on their own.
One of the first things the new council did in Hudson after last fall’s municipal elections was implement a temporary development freeze on construction in sensitive areas accounting for about 30 per cent of the town’s territory. The idea was to give the new mayor and councillors time to review and update zoning guidelines to be more sustainable after citizens mobilized to oppose a project slated for Sandy Beach.
Pointe-Claire took similar steps, adopting an interim freeze on new construction pending a review of the municipality’s zoning tools. It also came in response to growing concerns among Pointe-Claire residents about the preservation of natural spaces — especially Fairview Forest, which are under pressure from encroaching development.
But acting on their own, municipalities can face pushback. Cadillac Fairview sued Pointe-Claire over the temporary freeze on its plan to build condos and other amenities on a portion of parking lot at Fairview Mall. The real estate company has grander plans to build a new downtown in the West Island, including on part of the green gem that is Fairview Forest — which would be an environmental travesty, even if the company owns the land.
After the legal proceedings were initiated, a majority of Pointe-Claire council voted to give Cadillac Fairview an exemption so it can move ahead with its parking lot plan. Perhaps that makes sense since this is a densification project on sprawling asphalt, but it sets a worrisome precedent about the seriousness of efforts to control development.
It also illustrates the lengths real estate promoters will go to when confronted with new parameters. Municipalities are supposed to set zoning restrictions to guide development, ensure the coherent planning and protect their communities’ natural assets. But developers are often determined to get their way. Even the threat of a lawsuit can make councillors skittish enough about expensive legal bills and settlements to give in to demands without a fight.
This is all the more reason the CMM’s united front is so important. It sets common conservation objectives and ground rules for all 82 municipalities, from the big three — Montreal, Laval and Longueuil — to small towns, like Île-Perrot, St-Sulpice or Verchères.
This unified approach needs to be accompanied by stricter laws for environmental protection across Quebec, limits on sprawl, as well as tools for cities and towns so they can acquire land of ecological importance for preservation purposes at a fair cost. Municipalities must also take stock of their natural assets, recognizing their value in flood mitigation or carbon sequestration, instead of just their market price.
It’s only by working together that we can preserve precious ecosystems that can help save us all.
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