Vancouver will pursue a climate strategy that stretches beyond the bare minimum, the city council agreed in a workshop Monday evening, and set goals to achieve carbon neutrality in the coming decades.
City leaders are early in the process of drafting an overarching plan to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, both within municipal systems and across Vancouver at large. The next step is picking a target: the council decided that it would go beyond the climate plans of Bellevue, Redmond and Everett — 80 percent emissions reduction by 2050 — and pursue something a little more ambitious.
“This issue is the greatest existential threat of our time,” Councilor Erik Paulsen said. “I think if you’re honest with yourself, there are few things if any that are before us now or likely to come before us any time soon that will be more consequential to the city of Vancouver.”
“For now, I like to think in terms of being bold and setting aspirational targets,” he added. He suggested starting with some “low-hanging fruit,” like establishing a timeline for transferring Vancouver’s fleet of municipal cars to electric vehicles.
A month ago the council heard from Seattle-based climate consultant Cascadia Consulting Group about four potential paths that would shrink the city’s climate footprint, ranging in urgency and intensity. The baseline option would just barely keep Vancouver in compliance with state and federal mandates, while the most ambitious route would put the city on track for 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2045.
On Monday, the city council signaled that they plan to discard the baseline option. They’re most interested in exploring the two middle-of-the-road plans put forth by the climate consultants last month; one would push for carbon neutrality by 2050, while the slightly more fast-paced plan would see an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2035 and neutrality by 2045.
“I’d love to be in a position where we’re leading edge,” Councilor Ty Stober said, “But we have … structural tax issues that would make leading edge very challenging for us.”
Councilor Linda Glover said she needs more information about the staff time and money Vancouver would need to devote toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions before planting any goalposts.
“Wouldn’t we love to say we’re leading edge, and really setting an example for the communities around us? But that’s quite a jump,” Glover said. “I don’t have any idea, really, what I’m talking about. I don’t know what the resources are to make any of that happen … I think we need to be careful in understanding what it would look like.”
What can the city control?
As part of their contract, Cascadia Consulting Group conducted the first comprehensive audit of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions in 13 years.
The audit found that the biggest sources of the city’s carbon footprint — by a long shot — are transportation and building utilities. Taken together, just those two sources are responsible for more than three-quarters of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“Transportation and energy usage are going to be our two toughest nuts to crack, and there’s nothing unique about Vancouver with those,” said Aaron Lande, the city’s senior policy analyst. “This is the same struggle and the same challenge that every other city around the country is facing.”
A few city councilors expressed skepticism that they could have much of an impact on those major slices of the pie, especially air travel. Flights with Vancouver residents, mostly out of Portland International Airport, make up 24 percent of the city’s emissions.
The city council isn’t exactly in a position to tell people not to get on an airplane, Councilor Sarah Fox pointed out. So why even include it in Vancouver’s carbon footprint?
“If it’s something we have absolutely no control over, it doesn’t make any sense to keep it there,” Fox said.
Lande agreed, adding that air travel was included in the city’s last climate study back in 2007 and so it was reflected again for the sake of an apples-to-apples comparison. Stober suggested that the city keep the metric, and potentially pursue a legislative strategy to lobby the Port of Portland to adopt a carbon offset program.
According to Lande, the council is on track to set a concrete emissions target in spring of next year.