At Vancouver City Hall, work is underway to develop a new plan to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. On that front, the city is not alone — across the Pacific Northwest, comparable municipalities like Spokane, Tacoma and Bend, Ore., have passed or are working on their own version of a climate action plan.
Vancouver, however, stands apart in its ambition.
Currently, city leaders are considering three separate timelines that would put the community on track for carbon neutrality by 2050 (referred to in city documents as the “stretch” target), 2045 (“bold”) or 2040 (“leading edge”). Even the least aggressive option would put Vancouver ahead of progressive bastions like Seattle and Portland.
And according to a loose consensus at a recent city council workshop, councilors don’t want to pursue the least aggressive option. The urgency marks a departure from the group’s more circumspect conversations late last year.
“It seems like our environment is changing so quickly, and that global warming is coming at us so fast,” Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover said at a July 26 council meeting.
“When we first talked about this before, I was trying to make sure we were going step by step and learning at every stage,” she continued. “I felt like, ‘Let’s set a goal we know we can make so we don’t feel like we failed.’ Now I feel like, ‘Let’s just shoot for it and work as hard as we can to get there.’”
Councilor Ty Stober also urged quick and aggressive action, suggesting that the city should aim for climate neutrality even earlier than 2040.
“It’s time for us to jump, and that we just need to make a commitment, because it feels like we’re wasting time of our staff and consultants — time and money — because we’re in this amorphous state,” Stober said. “I want to see us, municipally, at the leading edge.”
Vancouver is working with environmental consultant company Cascadia Consulting Group to put together its climate action plan.
The plan isn’t expected to formally pass until June 2022. At the July 26 meeting, consultants P.J. Tillmann and Tristan Smit recommended a series of “early action” measures aimed at jump-starting emissions reductions.
Their recommendations range across building, transportation and policy sectors. They include investing in 100 percent renewable energy for municipal buildings this year, subsidizing home weatherization and energy-efficiency retrofits for low-income households, developing citywide electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and establishing a municipal energy fund.
According to City Manager Eric Holmes, setting a climate-neutrality target at 2040 or earlier would require immediate action on the part of the city council.
“I appreciate the ambition shown by the council this evening, and also welcome having the clarity of the target so we can plan our work,” Holmes said. “I want to make sure that we have an understanding of whether that is achievable within some realistic assumptions.”
Where does Vancouver fall?
Even Vancouver’s least-aggressive climate-neutrality target would put it ahead of other major metropolitan cities, even those that started this work much sooner.
Portland, which became the first major U.S. city to adopt a global warming strategy in 1993, issued an update on the plan in 2009 that would aim for an 80 percent drop in 1990s-era carbon emissions by 2050. In Seattle, city leaders passed a plan in 2011 that aims to put the city on track to cut gas emissions by at least 80 percent and up to 100 percent by 2050.
Smaller and mid-sized metros share similar goals. Bend, for instance, aims to reduce community-wide fossil fuel use by 70 percent below 2016 levels by 2050; Olympia is seeking an 85 percent drop below 2015 levels, also by 2050.
Spokane, currently drafting an update to its 2009 sustainability action plan, is shooting for a 95 percent emissions reduction from 2016 levels by 2050.
All three of Vancouver’s plans go beyond those pursued by comparable cities.
Its “stretch” plan would aim for a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030, with full carbon neutrality by 2050. The “bold” plan shoots for an 80 percent emissions reduction by 2035 and a 100 percent drop by 2045. The “leading edge” option, which appeared to gain traction with councilors at the recent workshop, pursues an 80 percent drop by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2040.
Aaron Lande, Vancouver’s policy and program manager, asked the Cascadia consultants at the July 26 meeting if they knew of any city going beyond Vancouver’s proposed targets. Neither Tillmann nor Smit responded.
“Leading edge puts us pretty far out there,” Lande said.