Shauna Sylvester: Vancouver makes a big impression at COP21 climate summit in Paris

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      By Shauna Sylvester

      Today I took the train and shuttle us to Le Bourget, the site of the Paris COP21 conference. There are three zones that make up the area—the blue zone is the area where the negotiations are being held and are only accessible with UN accreditation. It is a giant tent-like structure that is set up like a fortress with serious police patrolling every access point.

      The red zone is the galleries where businesses gather to showcase their wares and hold workshops. And finally, the green zone is public and is the site of the cities pavilion and many other meeting areas where non-accredited NGOs and others meet.

      If there were an award for the delegation that made the best use of this global gathering place, it might go to the City of Vancouver.  Today, the City of Vancouver’s Economic Commission hosted two sessions—the first was held in partnership with the City of Copenhagen in the red zone and featured green businesses in a kind of rapid-fire storytelling session. The second session hosted in the cities pavilion in the green zone that details the data that measures Vancouver's economic growth sparked by its Greenest City Action Plan.

      The Greenest City Action Plan is generating interest from mayors attending the COP21 summit.
      Shauna Sylvester

      Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Raymond Louie (who also serves as the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities) seem to be everywhere—appearing on panels, opening workshops, showing up on-stage at rock concerts, and seen in huddled conversations with other delegations and businesses in one of the makeshift cafes.

      "Team Vancouver" isn’t just confined to elected officials. The Vancouver Economic Commission and the City of Vancouver convened dozens of business leaders like Ross Beaty and Jamie Hussein, UBC students like Jude Crasta, SFU Centre for Dialogue fellows Michael Small and Merran Smith, and environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation in advance of COP21 to coordinate and amplify the city’s message of green development.

      It was a network-based approach that has had a viral impact at COP 21 and has enabled Vancouver to punch above its weight and garner more media and public attention than it may otherwise deserve, given Vancouver’s size and economic influence.

      Perhaps the most important evidence of Vancouver’s influence came last night when 1,000 mayors released their agreement to address climate change.  As one of the first cities in the world to lay out its action plan to move to 100 percent renewable energy, Vancouver was instrumental in ensuring that the target of 100 percent renewable energy appeared in the mayors' statement. While some might dismiss this as merely aspirational, it does demonstrate how quickly Vancouver and other cities have been able to mainstream the idea of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy.

      If I sound like a disciple—I am. Just reading the reference to 100 percent renewable energy made my heart jump. It was only 17 months ago that I and my colleages from SFU's Carbon Talks were interviewing 150 thought leaders around the world and testing the idea of creating an initiative to support cities to adopt 100 percent renewable energy. I can't tell you how many people suggested that we focus our efforts at a different level of government since most cities had limited influence over the supply of energy.

      Despite the obstacles, we pursued the idea, working with the World Future Council, colleagues in Europe, and City of Vancouver staff. With the support of two Vancouver business leaders, Rudy North and Beaty, we launched Renewable Cities and hosted the first Global Learning Forum in Vancouver in May 2015.

      Ross Beaty is executive chairman of Alterra Power Corp., which has invested in wind, geothermal, and hydropower.
      Shauna Sylvester

      In less than two years, the Renewable Cities movement has grown exponentially. If anyone in May would have suggested that over 1,000 mayors from around the world would endorse the idea of 100 percent renewable energy at COP21, I would not have believed them. 

      But now SFU’s Renewable Cities team have cause for celebration.  The idea that seemed absurd a year ago, is now become mainstream. But now SFU’s Renewable Cities team has cause for celebration. The idea that seemed absurd a year ago, is now become mainstream. And now it is time to take it to the next stage and move from aspirational statement to action.

      Perhaps what I like most about what Vancouver is doing at COP 21 is that in addition to flying the flag, they are sharing their action plans, their challenges, and their lessons learned. They aren’t being pollyanish.  They recognize the challenges of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and they are seeking support as they move to action. In so doing, they are demonstrating how to build a global movement for change. And given the reticence of many nation states to take action, their civic approach is refreshing.   

      Shauna Sylvester is director of the SFU Centre for Dialogue, founder of Carbon Talks, and cofounder of Renewable Cities.