Since 1990, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has had a climate action plan that has been amended and expanded multiple times. It is one of the leading cities in the world in addressing climate change and has shown creativity in addressing energy issues from a variety of perspectives including bicycle transportation, urban densification, building regulation, and neighborhood heat pump systems to name a few.
Its most recent move, or rather Six Big Moves, builds on that long history of serious intent and leadership, and sets measurable, actionable goals that have very detailed and solid action plans behind them.
Reading these goals made me think that it may indeed be possible to move fast enough to reduce climate impacts. It’s really the first time I have seen a plan that is specific enough and anticipates moving rapidly enough to create big changes. The first four Big Moves specify new goals for urban planning, transportation, and building efforts, while the last two enter into less explored territory – reducing the embodied carbon in construction activities and working with coastal ecosystems to remove carbon from the air.
The Big Moves
The Administrative Report of April 16, 2019 contains the short excerpts below that encapsulate the Big Moves, a fuller explanation of each Big Move, and a much more detailed listing of 53 Accelerated Actions. While the transportation goals are extremely aggressive, the building electrification Big Move will create 46 percent of carbon reductions in 2030.
A. THAT Council adopt a new City-wide long-term climate target of being carbon neutral before 2050 as a complement to the target of 100 per cent of the energy used in Vancouver coming from renewable sources before 2050.
B. THAT Council adopt the target that by 2030, 90 per cent of people live within an easy walk/roll of their daily needs, and direct staff to report back by Fall 2020 with a strategy to achieve the target (“Big Move #1”).
C. THAT Council accelerate the existing sustainable transportation target by 10 years, so that by 2030, two thirds of trips in Vancouver will be by active transportation and transit, and direct staff to report back by Fall 2020 with a strategy to achieve the target (“Big Move #2”).
D. THAT Council adopt the target that by 2030, 50 per cent of the kilometres driven on Vancouver’s roads will be by zero emissions vehicles, and direct staff to report back by Fall 2020 with a strategy to achieve the target (“Big Move #3”).
E. THAT Council adopt the new target that by 2025, all new and replacement heating and hot water systems will be zero emissions, and direct staff to report back by Fall 2020 with a strategy to achieve the target ( “Big Move #4”).
F. THAT Council adopt the target that by 2030, the embodied emissions in new buildings and construction projects will be reduced by 40 per cent compared to a 2018 baseline, and direct staff to report back by Fall 2020 with initial actions to achieve this target including recommendations to remove regulatory barriers to mass timber construction and initial requirements for embodied emissions reductions (“Big Move #5”).
G. THAT Council adopt the target that by 2030, restoration work will be completed on enough forest and coastal ecosystems in Vancouver and the surrounding region to remove one million tonnes of carbon pollution annually by 2060, and direct staff to report back by Fall 2020 with initial actions to achieve the target, including potential partnership opportunities (“Big Move #6”).
H. THAT Council direct staff to begin implementing the Accelerated Actions as described in Appendix A and report back to Council with an overall progress report by May 2020.
These Big Moves sound like both remarkable outcomes and well-focused, doable strategies at the same time.
The Building Electrification Big Move
Switch all new and replacement heating and water heating equipment to electricity by 2025? Well, Vancouver is already on track with a years-old zero emissions building code that captures new construction and renovation. The big problem is replacement equipment. For that, Vancouver envisions “sustained incentives (potentially through a Vancouver Climate Trust) and investments in industry capacity-building to support voluntary adoption … before 2025. Ultimately, there will need to be regulations that require zero emissions heating equipment when it is replaced...”
The building electrification Big Move notes that “While 2025 is the key date to meaningfully bend the emissions reduction curve, moving this quickly will have implications on factors such as costs and business’ ability to adapt to new opportunities.” More detailed aspects of the plan will deal with addressing business concerns, providing job transitions, incentive designs, and addressing concerns about housing affordability, especially in rentals.
Vancouver and most other cities with climate plans look towards regulatory strategies as a key part of the pathway to get near-universal adoption of carbon reduction measures. Vancouver recognizes the impacts of regulations on business practices and puts into place a series of measures to support the changes such as training, financing, and incentives of various kinds. These are all fundamental market transformation strategies.
What is a bit different is pairing these market support strategies so directly with announced regulatory actions. This move creates market certainty of change, which makes it more likely that businesses will invest in the change through research, new product development, training, and consumer marketing. While businesses do not generally like regulations, they do like certainty and advanced notice of coming changes, so that they can adjust their business strategies over time. Some elements of change – like product development and market positioning – can take years to accomplish.
The report coming out of Vancouver is very aggressive yet seems quite actionable. Vancouver notes that itis not the only city to have declared a climate emergency and that others are also developing accelerated action plans. The clarity and thoughtfulness of Vancouver’s document will hopefully provide a way forward for others to follow towards a more rapid advancement of carbon reduction actions.
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