The axiom that humans should think globally but act locally applies to climate change. While a municipality, state or nation cannot single-handedly reverse the threat of a changing climate, the moral imperative for action exists at all levels of government.
Such is the task facing the city of Vancouver as it considers a climate action plan. City leaders are weighing ambitious proposals for reducing carbon emissions — acting locally to address a pressing need that encompasses the globe.
That need was reinforced this week by the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In its first report in eight years, the international group of scientists concludes that climate change is clearly caused by human activity and calls it a “code red for humanity.”
“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “I don’t see any area that is safe. … Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
Vancouver city councilors are taking note. “It seems like our environment is changing so quickly and that global warming is coming at us so fast,” councilor Linda Glover said at a recent meeting. “When we first talked about this before, I was trying to make sure we were going step by step and learning at every state. … Now I feel like, let’s just shoot for it and work as hard as we can to get there.”
City leaders are considering three timelines. The most aggressive would put city functions on pace for carbon neutrality by 2040. Other proposals would set deadlines of 2045 or 2050, but Councilor Ty Stober said, “I want to see us, municipally, at the leading edge.”
That appears to be the consensus among councilors, and it seems warranted by climate conditions. Locally, waves of excessive heat and wildfires that have covered the region in smoke represent the impact of climate change. Across the state, drought conditions have affected crop production. Globally, deadly flooding has been seen in Europe and China, as have record temperatures in Siberia.
Those scenarios fit with earlier predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the latest report foresees more dramatic outcomes.
“This report tells us that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid and intensifying, unprecedented in thousands of years,” said Ko Barrett, senior adviser for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate change “is already affecting every region on Earth in multiple ways. There’s no going back from some changes in the climate system.”
The city of Vancouver is not expected to formally pass a climate action plan until next year. But efforts to mitigate emissions can — and should — be taken now. Consultants hired by the city recommend changes in the building and transportation sectors, including investment in renewable energy for municipal buildings, subsidizing home weatherization and enacting energy-efficient retrofits for low-income households. A citywide plan for electric-vehicle charging infrastructure also is recommended, and state leaders should act quickly to incentivize the purchase of EVs.
Warnings that human-caused climate change is real and that it would have dire impacts have been with us for years. Those warnings are coming to fruition, even sooner than previously projected. Leaders in Vancouver and other cities must act locally to be part of a global solution.