Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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In Our View: Success of climate plan depends on hard work

The Columbian

Now comes the hard part.

Not that devising a comprehensive plan for reducing carbon emissions in Vancouver wasn’t difficult. It was. Yet implementing the Climate Action Framework adopted last week by the Vancouver City Council will require cooperation and foresight from residents, businesses and future community leaders. After all, many an ambitious government plan through the years has been subdued by reality.

The desire to reduce emissions is driven by the reality of climate change. Scientists have shown that human activity — the burning of fossil fuels — has contributed to a warming planet, and such warming is evidenced by the increased intensity and frequency of hurricanes and wildfires; by unhealthy forests; by severe droughts; by changing habitats for wildlife and humans alike.

And for those who try to dismiss or diminish the impact of climate change, we will point out that as regions of the Earth become less hospitable to humans, climate refugees to prosperous nations will become a growing issue.

Vancouver, of course, cannot mitigate the entirety of this impact. The city includes 38 percent of the Clark County population and 0.002 percent of the global population. We are but a small cog that can play only a small role.

Yet in adopting the Climate Action Framework, council members have signaled that Vancouver can not only fulfill its moral duty, but can set an example for other cities and prepare our region for economic and social changes that will be dictated by an altered climate.

We can embrace that role, or we can be dragged kicking and screaming toward it.

The framework contains nearly 90 green-driven actions that fall under the purview of the city council, such as promoting home electrification, working with owners of commercial buildings to reduce energy use, bolstering solar energy production, expanding electric vehicle charging stations and enhancing public transportation.

Transportation — mostly cars and trucks — is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, and the plan calls for transitioning the city’s fleet of vehicles to electric.

That points out a dichotomy. Scientists have warned for years about the threat of climate change while pointing out the risks of gas-powered transportation. Officials in Vancouver and elsewhere have had plenty of incentive to transform their vehicle fleets, yet they have been slow to act.

Yes, high-minded rhetoric from government often belies reality. In 2015, for example, Gov. Jay Inslee announced an “Electric Fleets Initiative” to transform the state’s fleet of vehicles; it was then largely ignored by state agencies.

Vancouver’s adopted plan is expected to reduce carbon emissions 83 percent by 2040, even after some measures of an earlier proposal were abandoned. Rebecca Small, a senior policy analyst, said: “Because Vancouver is setting the bar high with our targets, even with these steps back, we are still exceeding the 2030 targets that the latest science says is needed to prevent dangerous climate change.”

Those targets come at a price. The actions are expected to cost the city $8 million a year through 2040; decarbonizing buildings and transportation could cost a total of approximately $150 million.

But over time, such changes will provide energy savings, take advantage of green economic opportunities and mark Vancouver as a forward-thinking city that is attractive to forward-thinking businesses.

The benefits will be paramount. But now comes the hard part.