Christine Boyle: Vancouver's Climate Emergency Action Plan places high priority on equity

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      The City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan comes back to council on November 17, and we need your help to make sure it passes.

      First, here are some highlights. 

      The Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) focuses on our largest sources of pollution. In Vancouver 54 percent of carbon emissions come from burning “natural” gas for heating and hot water in buildings, and 39 percent come from burning gas and diesel in vehicles.

      City studies have shown that over 90 percent of Vancouver residents are concerned or deeply concerned about climate change, but only 5 to 10 percent correctly identify heating our largest local sources of emissions. To decrease emissions, we need to focus on buildings and transportation.

      The region is expected to gain one million residents in the next 30 years. There’s no space for new roads, so we need to figure out how more people and goods can move around with more efficient use of space. Fewer private vehicles, more public transit, walking and rolling.

      To decrease congestion and emissions, the plan recommends transport pricing in the metro core.

      Transport pricing isn’t a cash grab. It’s a tool for incentivizing change, with revenue going toward improving walking, rolling and public transportation choices. (More on transport pricing from Marc Lee at the CCPA here.)

      Investments in expanding walking, cycling, and public transit networks are key, so people have safer, more efficient, and affordable choices for getting around. This is especially important for neighbourhoods that have been historically underserved by public and active transit.

      Video: David Suzuki explains why it's imperative to address carbon emissions from buildings and transportation.

      The plan also proposes residential parking permits citywide. A significant portion of our public street space is parking, and the majority is free or underpriced relative to its real value. Parking permits are a market-measure, to more accurately price the real cost of cars.

      These parking permits would also include a carbon pollution surcharge for residents who purchase a new expensive gas vehicle, where an EV option is available. (As part of an equity priority, the surcharge wouldn’t apply to less expensive gas cars, or older or used gas cars).

      Transport pricing and parking permits need to have fairness and equity at their core. We need to incorporate discounts or exemptions for low-income people and people with disabilities, and to consider the needs of precarious and low-wage workers.

      In addition to important investments in public and active transportation networks, the plan includes an expansion of the public EV-charging network, distributed more equitably, with a priority on areas with higher numbers of rental homes.

      This NASA satellite image showed Vancouver's first serious wildfire-smoke-related event in 2015. There have been several since then.

      Similar to Vancouver’s regulatory approach for new buildings, the plan proposes annual carbon pollution limits for most existing buildings that will decrease over time—gradually decreasing the amount of fossil fuels a building can use, inspired by similar efforts in New York City.

      Retrofitting existing homes and buildings to be more energy efficient, and switching to zero-emission space heating & hot water, will also play a HUGE role in meeting our GHG reduction goals.

      Remember: burning gas for heating and hot water in buildings equals 54 percent of Vancouver emissions.

      The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment’s recent SwitchItUp campaign articulates why the transition from “natural” gas to electricity matters both for climate and for health (more here).

      To avoid renovictions, rental and nonmarket housing will initially be exempt from carbon limits, with a focus on retrofits in these buildings that don’t result in rent hikes or displacement for tenants. It’s a BIG area of concern, and the report recognizes that repeatedly.

      Land use and housing need to be part of every climate plan, so more people can live in walkable, mixed-income neighbourhoods, within easy walking/rolling distance to their daily needs. (Housing Policy is Climate Policy.)

      The land-use and housing portion of the plan will be part of the Vancouver Plan process. I share many of your concerns about delays, and I’ll keep advocating for quick-starts. We shouldn’t wait a decade to welcome new neighbours into our lowest-density neighbourhoods.

      The plan also recognizes the need for natural ecosystem approaches to carbon sequestration through forests, wetlands, agriculture, grasslands, and more. These efforts could happen within and beyond the city, and offer exciting opportunities to partner with local First Nations.

      There is a high priority on incorporating equity into the climate plan. Staff worked with a climate and equity working group, adjusted actions to avoid burdening disproportionately impacted communities, and focused regulatory and pricing actions on those most able to afford them.

      Reconciliation is also woven into the plan. Vancouver sits on unceded land, and it’s imperative that greater efforts be made to collaborate with and support Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and urban Indigenous communities throughout implementation.

      The plan has an estimated $500-million price tag over the next five years, and includes a detailed financial plan for how these costs would be covered in equitable ways. That cost seems high, but it’s much smaller than the cost of not acting.

      COVID has created shocks through our communities. I’ve heard people ask: is now the right time?

      But the urgency and severity of the climate crisis remain unchanged. “We need to combine rapid reductions in fossil-fuel use with equitable economic recovery.” A just recovery for all.

      In total the plan contains 35 recommendations. The only way we meet our carbon pollution reduction targets is by doing ALL of them. Not picking and choosing. Not delaying anything.

      The full Vancouver Climate Emergency Action Plan is available here.

      My 2019 climate emergency motion passed unanimously, as did the high-level report 90 days later. Now, we need the mayor and council to put those words into action, approving and fully funding the plan, and asking staff to return with by-law changes and detailed programs ASAP.

      Ready to help get Vancouver’s  Climate Emergency Action Plan passed.

      Find out more and take action here

      Christine Boyle is a Vancouver city councillor with OneCity Vancouver. This article originally appeared on her blog. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.