The City of Vancouver continues to pursue its “front-runner” efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, an aggressive timeline that sets itself apart from other environmentally progressive cities tackling climate change.
At a city council workshop on Monday, city staff presented their progress in drafting Vancouver’s multi-component climate action plan, an initiative approved in 2021 in partnership with environmental firm Cascadia Consulting Group. So far, the city has advanced 12 of its 13 actions, many of which are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“Already the science is starting to shift and say 2050 is too late, and we need to move faster than that,” said Vancouver policy and program manager Aaron Lande. “You’ll see that we’ve charted a very aggressive path to get there.”
This preliminary approach is an ambitious goal and reflects a sense of immediacy as the results of climate change become clearer. Still, advisers stressed the need to strategize thoroughly to avoid drawing reactionary conclusions.
“How are we not positioning ourselves to be reactive? We can talk about macro on a large scale, but (we need) something that we and the public can wrap (around) to see something tangible,” Councilor Diana Perez said.
Advisors and staff also stressed the importance of looking at the plan from a pragmatic perspective – and a price estimate.
“We need to have realistic conversations about the cost of these actions, and we need to make sure that the actions we take will be fair,” said Rebecca Small, senior policy analyst in Vancouver.
The next workshop to evaluate the refined plan and cost model is scheduled for April 25, where city leaders are expected to consolidate policy tools. The climate strategy should be officially adopted in June.
Vancouver: the paragon of pollution crushing?
Before the city council accepted its current schedule, city documents outlined the efforts needed to maintain its environmental goal. According to previous reports by The Columbian, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 was considered its “stretch” goal, while 2045 was “bold” and 2040 was “forward-thinking”.
Vancouver’s goal to completely reduce its carbon emissions by 2040 surpasses other cities large and small. For example, Seattle is expected to completely reduce carbon pollution by 2050 and Bend, Oregon, aims to reduce fossil fuel use by 70% in the same year.
Specifically, this means that 80% of carbon emissions created by municipal operations should be reduced by 2025, and the community of Vancouver should reduce its pollution by 80% by 2030.
If the city is to meet its goal, however, city staff and council need to meet more frequently to assess its progress, Lande said. As environmental conditions change and new technologies develop, the conversation must evolve with it.
“We did our first inventory over 10 years ago, and that won’t happen in the future,” he continued. “Let’s make some more changes and keep moving in that direction. Now we have our goal – we have our North Star.
The aggressive green strategy
The set of environmentally friendly elements includes transportation and land use, buildings and energy, and the conservation of natural resources. Key strategies would reduce the energy demand of buildings and shift to low-carbon energy sources, revise land use to provide affordable and sustainable housing, increase pedestrian transit, decrease the need for driving, and improve green spaces for carbon sequestration.
Many of the ideas proposed require effort to be applied at the municipal level. Suggested policy tools would require the city to create mandates for new construction and energy conversion of existing buildings, invest in renewable fuels infrastructure, and increase city density through zoning.
- Buildings and Energy: Four elements assess the development and expansion of green energy use in buildings and city operations.
- Transport and land use planning: three actions concern the replacement of urban fleets with electric options or the use of fuels that are more respectful of the environment.
- Water and Waste: Three actions create a plan for purchasing and solids management, and sustainable waste disposal for city buildings.
- Governance: Two ongoing elements would build staff capacity to implement Vancouver’s climate plan and establish an energy fund; an uninitiated item releases a priority statement that would provide guidance to personnel in major projects such as the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program.
Planned federal and state regulations will reduce pollution increases, Small said, but Vancouver’s goals depend on business and community involvement.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease, there will be more equity-focused outreach and community roundtables. Considering how low-income families, those with health problems or the homeless are coping with the brunt of climate change, establishing future measures is paramount, she added.
“As we pursue this goal (of carbon neutrality), we will seek to balance the impacts of the economy, how we achieve appropriate and context-sensitive density and how we invest in mobility,” said City Manager Eric Holmes. .