It's an audacious idea to get all of Vancouver off fossil fuels forever.
But that's precisely what city council will be discussing today when a motion from Mayor Gregor Robertson goes before the committee on planning, transportation, and the environment.
It calls upon council to recommit to a long-term goal of deriving 100 percent of energy from renewable sources.
If it's passed, staff will prepare a long-term climate-action play by fall citing the date when this shift could reasonably be accomplished.
"It's been on our radar from day one," Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told the Straight by phone. "It was the commitment in the original Greenest City Action Team report that came before council as a long-term goal to get off fossil fuels."
She noted that the Greenest City Action Team's objective not only included renewable sources for electricity and heating, but also for transportation.
"We need to figure out what that shift looks like," Reimer said.
Currently, 32 percent of the city's energy needs are achieved through renewable sources, according to Robertson's motion. The preamble mentions that climate change and resulting extreme-weather events are "increasingly being felt as rising economic impacts, social conflicts, damaged infrastructure, and loss of human life". The preamble also states that cost of climate-change adaptation in Metro Vancouver is estimated at $9.5 billion at a minimum.
Later this year in Paris, countries around the world will try to reach a consensus to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Their goal will be to keep the average global temperature rise below 2℃ from the time humans began burning fossil fuels.
"I think the public's big question [is] if this stuff is so bad for us because of climate change, when do we quit?" Reimer said. "Clearly, we're going to need percentage reductions on the way to quit. But unless we actually establish the quit date and the intention to stop burning fossil fuels, I think it lacks some credibility with the public."
She noted that if the goal is to reach 100 percent renewables by a certain date, everything has to be on the table. Reimer pointed out that Vancouver is almost completely reliant on renewable energy for electricity. That's because B.C. Hydro relies so heavily on hydroelectric power.
In addition, neighbourhood energy systems can also reduce reliance on fossil fuels. This is already taking place around Southeast False Creek.
Reimer suggested more progress can be made by working with neighbourhoods in the future to determine what these systems could look like. As an example, she said that B.C. Children's and Women's Hospital has a "legacy steam system, which they're looking to revamp with their redevelopment".
"So there are opportunities to bring the neighbourhood in," she said. "Then, of course, you have the Cambie-Marine cluster, which is another opportunity to do that."
Reimer acknowledged that it will be difficult to wean the city off consuming natural gas, but noted that over the longer term, transportation will probably be the toughest challenge. However, she also said that half the transit passengers in Vancouver currently travel through the use of renewable energy.
"It might not be as difficult as it sounds," she said. "We have a significant number of pedestrians because of the bulk-form decisions we've made. And we have increasing numbers of cyclists and electric-vehicle infrastructure."
Robertson's motion states that 10 cities—including San Francisco, Sydney, Stockholm, and Copenhagen—have set targets to either be fossil-fuel-free or 100 percent reliant on renewable power by or before 2050.