The city of Vancouver is still persistently inching toward its “leading edge” efforts of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040, an aggressive timeline that sets itself apart from other ecologically progressive cities combating climate change.
During a city council workshop Monday, city staff presented their progress in drafting Vancouver’s multiple-item climate action plan, an initiative approved in 2021 in partnership with environmental company Cascadia Consulting Group. So far, the city has advanced 12 of its 13 action items — with many of them anticipated to be complete by the end of the year.
“Already, the science is starting to shift and say that 2050 is too late, and we need to be moving faster than that,” said Aaron Lande, Vancouver’s policy and program manager. “You’ll see that we’ve laid out a very aggressive pathway to get there.”
This preliminary approach is an ambitious target and reflects a sense of immediacy as outcomes of climate change are becoming clearer. Still, counselors emphasized the need to craft thorough strategies to avoid reaching reactionary conclusions.
“How are we not positioning ourselves to be reactive? We can talk big scale macro, but (we need) something that us and the public can wrap their hands (around) to see something tangible,” Councilor Diana Perez said.
Councilors and staff also emphasized the importance of viewing the plan with a pragmatic lens – and a price estimate.
“We need to have realistic conversations about the cost of these actions, and we need to make sure that actions we implement are going to be equitable,” said Rebecca Small, Vancouver’s senior policy analyst.
The next workshop to assess the refined plan and cost model is scheduled for April 25 where city leaders are expected to solidify policy tools. The climate strategy is expected to formally pass in June.
Vancouver: the paragon of squashing pollution?
Before the city council agreed to its current timeline, city documents outlined the effort required to maintain its environmental goal. According to previous reporting by The Columbian, reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 was considered its “stretch” target, whereas 2045 was “bold” and 2040 was “leading edge.”
Vancouver’s goal of completely reducing its carbon emissions by 2040 outpaces other cities both big and small. For example, Seattle is set to completely diminish carbon pollution by 2050 and Bend, Ore., aims to reduce fossil fuel use by 70 percent the same year.
Specifically, this means 80 percent of carbon emissions created by municipal operations would have to be lowered by 2025, and the Vancouver community would have to lower its pollution by 80 percent by 2030.
If the city is going to achieve its goal, however, city staff and the council must meet more frequently to assess its progress, Lande said. As environmental conditions change and new technologies develop, the conversation must evolve alongside it.
“We did our first inventory 10 plus years ago, and that’s not going to happen going forward,” he continued. “Let’s make some more changes and keep moving in that direction. Now we have our goal – we have our North Star.”
The aggressive green strategy
The bundle of environmentally savvy items ranges from transportation and land use, buildings and energy, and preserving natural resources. Key strategies would reduce building energy demands and switch to low-carbon power resources, revise land use to provide affordable and sustainable housing, increase pedestrian transit, decrease the need for driving and improve green spaces for carbon sequestration.
Many of the proposed ideas require efforts to be enforced on a municipal level. Suggested policy tools would require the city to create mandates for new construction and energy conversion in existing buildings, invest in renewable fuel infrastructure and increase city density through up-zoning.
- Buildings and energy: Four items assess the development and expansion on green energy use in buildings and city operations.
- Transportation and land use: Three actions address the replacement of city fleets with electric options or using eco-friendlier fuels.
- Water and waste: Three actions create purchasing and solids management plan, as well as provide sustainable waste disposal for city buildings.
- Governance: Two items in progress would build staff capacity to implement Vancouver’s climate plan and establish an energy fund; an uninitiated item releases a priority declaration that would provide staff guidance in large projects such as the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program.
Foreseen federal and state regulations will lessen the increase of pollution, Small said, but Vancouver’s goals depend on commercial and community involvement.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease, there will be more community roundtables and outreach focused on addressing equity. Considering how low-income families, those with adverse health conditions or homeless people face the brunt of climate change is paramount in establishing future measures, she added.
“As we pursue that goal (of carbon neutrality), we’ll look to balance the impacts of the economy, how we achieve appropriate and context sensitive density and how we invest in mobility,” City Manager Eric Holmes said.