Proposed "Big Moves" on climate could transform Vancouver in ways residents might not have imagined

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      This morning, Vancouver city council will deal with two major staff reports focusing on greenhouse gas emissions.

      The first includes recommendations on the city's response to a "climate emergency", which was declared in January by council.

      Yesterday, I wrote about one aspect: the shortage of electric vehicle recharging stations in Vancouver. has also posted a commentary by the executive director of Renewable Cities, Alex Boston. He reviewed Vancouver's role as a trailblazer on climate issues since 1990 and focused on the new report's integration of climate action with affordability.

      And Vancouver resident Paul Ratchford raised concerns on this site about appendix H in the report. It calls for ensuring a majority of black, Indigenous, and people of colour at publicly funded workshops that incorporate an intersectional lens into climate actions.

      While this may seem like heavy coverage, it only addresses certain aspects. It's hard to underestimate the impact that this report could have on the city and possibly other countries in the years to come. (More on that below.)

      Local governments can change the world. That's been seen in everything from antismoking efforts to cannabis regulation to the peace movement to the trend across the globe to viewing drug addiction as a health issue.

      In all four of these areas, Vancouver was a leading player in North America, just as it has been in responding to climate change.

      Local actions can persuade senior governments to follow because municipalities are often hothouses for innovation. And this has also been the case with climate change.

      Witness the role that municipal governments, including Vancouver, had in strengthening the backbone of world leaders to set hard limits in the Paris Agreement of 2015. 

      "In Canada and around the world, there is a growing movement of hundreds of local governments recognizing the emergency that climate change represents, accelerating their own actions, and calling on provincial/state and national governments to ramp up their responses," the city report states. "Given the world's increasingly urbanized population is on the front lines of the fight against climate change, the world's urban population will disproportionately experience the effects of global warming."

      Forest fires have brought shrouds of smoke to Vancouver in recent summers. City staff have proposed "clean air" rooms as one possible response.
      Metro Vancouver

      "Big Moves" imply big changes

      The city report recommends six "Big Moves", which will be voted on by council. Below, I've listed them, as well as their implications for city residents.

      * Staff are recommending that 90 percent of people will eventually live within an easy walk or roll of their daily needs. That implies much more densification in South Vancouver, where this is mostly not the case—apart from in Marpole, Oakridge, Dunbar, Kerrisdale, and South Hill.

      * By 2030, two-thirds of trips will be by walking, cycling, rollerblading, and transit. This implies that more road space for motor vehicles will be taken away to accommodate nonmotorists. This process has already begun on the Granville Bridge.

      * Council will set a target of 50 percent of kilometres driven in 2030 will be made in zero-emission vehicles. This implies a sharp increase in electric-vehicle charging stations and far more extensive efforts to make these available to tenants, who comprise 53 percent of the city's population.

      * Council will ensure that all new replacement heating and hot water systems will deliver zero emissions. This implies a sharp expansion of neighbourhood energy utilities and the use of heat pumps. There's not a lot of talk in the report about geothermal and solar energy, but city staff's goals could eventually lead to a clash with B.C. Hydro over the extent of distributed power generation in Vancouver. That's because building owners may increasingly want to generate their own renewable power to achieve the city's objectives, but B.C. Hydro won't want to lose revenue sources.

      * Council will set a target of reducing embedded emissions in new buildings and construction projects to 40 percent of the 2018 level by 2030. That would inevitably lead to far more wood construction and far less use of cement, as well as fewer underground parkades.

      * Council would pass policies leading to the removal of one million tonnes of carbon annually by 2060 through regeneration of local forests and coastal ecosystems. That implies a whole lot of tree planting. In fact, that's been one area where the city has fallen far short of the Greenest City Action Plan targets. That's due to city staff and politicians not doing enough to mobilize the public to get more involved. Expect more crowdsourcing of environmental protection in the coming years.

      There is also massive number of recommended actions in the report, including in the area of climate change adaption.

      For example, there's a call for the creation of "clean air rooms" in up to five cooling centres. If approved, portable filters would ensure clean air "during extended daytime hours" on poor air-quality days. That would help seniors and those with asthma and other breathing diseases cope with billows of forest fire smoke descending on Vancouver.

      As Vancouver city staff propose measures to curb natural gas use in the future, the major distributor, Fortis BC, is using its Twitter feed to promote its efforts to create local jobs.
      Fortis BC

      Natural gas accounts for over half of city's GHGs

      The second staff report on climate actions concerns building retrofits for deep carbon reductions.

      "Currently, the majority of building retrofits are incremental and piecemeal, which results in technology lock-in that does not lead to deep emission reductions," the report states. "This needs to change to a holistic and long-term approach to achieve the City's targets."

      It notes that 95 percent of building emissions result from the burning of natural gas for space heating and hot water systems.

      "Eliminating these emissions is essential to meeting our 100% renewable energy target [by 2050] and heat pumps powered by low/zero-carbon electricity will be the primary enabling technology," it adds.

      In 2017—the last year statistics are available—Vancouver's community greenhouse gas emissions totalled 2,575,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents. More than 1.5 million tonnes were generated through buildings—59 percent of the total.

      This means that the burning of natural gas generated more than 1.35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in Vancouver in 2017.

      Another 33 percent—860,000 tonnes—were from light-duty vehicles. And four percent were from each of the following categories: heavy trucks, landfill gas, and solid waste.

      These community greenhouse gas emissions do not include marine traffic in and out of the Port of Vancouver.

      The 2017 total was down seven percent from the figure in 2007.

      Yet greenhouse gas emissions rose in Vancouver in 2016 and 2017 after reaching a 10-year low of 2.37 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2015.

      According to the federal census, the population of Vancouver was 631,486 in 2016, up from 603,502 in 2011.

      Rep. Ocasio-Cortez narrates this animated feature on the Green New Deal, which was posted on YouTube by the Intercept.