When Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson set the goal of making his city the world’s greenest, he meant it.
A year after starting his first term in 2008, Robertson began implementing his “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan,” with the goal of becoming an environmental world leader by 2020. The award-winning plan tackles everything from energy efficiency to building standards to waste reduction to encouraging residents to grow their own food.
And it’s working.
According to the latest Greenest City report, Vancouver water consumption is down by 18 per cent, 23,400 new trees have been planted, 3,200 green and local food jobs have been created — all contributing to a reduction of community CO2 emissions by 6 per cent from 2007 levels and keeping the city atop global rankings for livability and health.
And, in Wednesday’s unanimous council decision, Vancouver City Council decided to go even further: recommitting to a long-term goal of deriving 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.
Canada’s First 100% Renewable City
In adopting this resolution the City of Vancouver becomes only the fourth city in North America — and the first in Canada — pledging to decarbonize. San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco have all pledged to get off fossil fuels, starting in 2022, 2035 and 2020 respectively.
When Vancouver would go 100 per cent renewable is still to be determined. Now that the motion has passed representatives from City Hall will work with specialists and experts over the next six months to figure out how soon Vancouver could phase out its use of fossil fuels. They’ll report back to Council in the Fall, after which implementation will begin in earnest.
Fortunately, As other cities pursuing a low carbon future have learned, going green has huge potential for local value creation.
For example: After committing to 100 per cent renewables by 2050, the city of Frankfurt reduced its emissions by 15 per cent and grew its economy by 50 per cent.
Where Cities Lead, Will Nations Follow?
Getting to a complete elimination of fossil fuels powering Vancouver’s transportation, heating and cooling is a huge step — particularly when both Canada’s federal government and the B.C. provincial government seem reluctant to implement the kind of bold policy needed for transformative climate action.
Despite pressure from the UN to put forward an aggressive emission reduction pledge in advance of December’s Paris climate summit, carbon reductions from Canada’s Conservative government remain among the lowest in the developed world. Environment Canada recently revealed that Canada is likely to exceed its own 2020 emission reduction targets by at least 20 per cent.
Even though British Columbia is home to one of the most progressive carbon taxes in the world, Premier Christy Clark pledged to freeze the tax for five years as part of her 2013 re-election campaign. Instead, her administration is focused on building infrastructure to ship BC LNG to Asian markets.
In the absence of other leadership, it makes sense why Vancouver City Council is compelled to act. As Mayor Robertson said to council before the historic vote:.
“Cities, as the most direct level of government, need to take action. The world can’t wait for national governments to finish their negotiations. It’s time we get on the path of figuring out how to eliminate fossil fuels in as aggressive of a timeline as is realistic.”
Councillor Andrea Reimer echoed his urgency: “We have a moral imperative to act.”
NB: It is worth noting that should the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker expansion proposal be approved, Vancouver’s energy and emission savings through the Greenest City program would be wiped out by one day of operation.
Full disclosure: The author worked for Vision Vancouver during the Fall 2014 municipal election.
Image Credit: Juan Alberto Garcia Rivera via Flickr