Without community engagement, the city of Vancouver’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2040 will be unattainable.
The city of Vancouver can develop and implement green policies and programs to contribute to this reality. But there are limits to what the government can do.
That’s the assessment of city senior policy analyst Rebecca Small, who outlined the draft climate action plan during a webinar with the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington to relay the significance of public action.
During the meeting Wednesday, Small said volunteer work and partnerships with nonprofits can strengthen Vancouver’s natural systems, such as trees, that capture carbon created by urban infrastructure.
Most of the land within Vancouver is privately owned, which presents a challenge in increasing its canopy and green space, Small said. The solution is to work with property owners to incorporate more vegetation in empty spaces to boost ecological value, though there are limited ways the government can be involved.
“This is not something that we are able to do on a large scale,” Small said. “So our partnerships with organizations like the Watershed Alliance … are so important to have as an avenue to conduct this work.”
The Watershed Alliance’s Backyard Habitat Program is an example of how organizations can contribute to reducing carbon emissions through improving natural spaces, according to Small. Specifically, the program offers property owners a tailored recommendation for what native plant species they should have in their yard. The suggestion comes with a certification, plant discount and other perks.
Shane Carter, restoration and outreach coordinator, said hundreds of homes in the county are a part of the program, improving the area’s green space and climate resiliency. The group also oversees sites, such as Burnt Bridge Creek and Arnold Park, where volunteers plant thousands of trees, shrubs and other native vegetation.
Community organizations are not the city’s only public partners that can help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Vancouver also collaborates with businesses, utilities and agencies to progress its actions, such as C-Tran and Clark Public Utilities.
Vancouver’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, adopted in early June, positions the city as a national leader in climate action. Its draft list of actions touches on buildings and energy, transportation and land use, solid waste, equity and governance.
The goal is separated between the local government and general community to make it easier to approach; city operations are slated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2025, and the community is projected to decrease the same amount by 2030.
One of the most severe impacts climate change has in Vancouver is intensifying heat, which often results in urban heat islands, Small said. The heat pockets are more common in corridors with an abundance of pavement and minimal shade cast by tree canopies.
“It’s incumbent upon us to mitigate this as quickly as possible and to prioritize the areas that are most affected,” Small said.
A measure included in the climate priority resolution is dedicated to creating a community and youth advisory board to contribute to the conversation. Until the plan is approved by the Vancouver City Council, staff cannot begin developing the board. If the idea appeals to residents, they should relay their support of it to the council so it is prioritized, Small said.
City staff encourage people to submit their questions or feedback to the city council by July 29 before it is presented during a council meeting on Aug. 8. There will be a public hearing and adoption vote for the climate action plan on Sept. 12.