Originally published on The ECOreport.
In 2009, Gregor Robertson was elected mayor of Vancouver after campaigning to make it the greenest city in the world. Two years later, The Economist ranked Vancouver #2 in North America. In 2013, Vancouver was chosen as the planet’s first Global Earth Hour Capital. The judges were impressed by the city’s overall holistic approach to climate action. According to the city’s sustainability director, Amanda Pitre-Hayes, Vancouver has made significant progress.
“We mean for this to be a friendly competition between cities, for the benefit of all cities, rather than a desire to be the best — which is very un-Canadian,” chuckled Pitre-Hayes.
One of the biggest challenges for Vancouver is the rate at which things are happening. Around 35,000 residents helped draw up the Greenest City Action Plan, which City Council adopted in 2011. They set very ambitious goals and 2020 is fast approaching
A global target was set at the Kyoto Accord. If the world can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, it may be possible to keep the rise of global temperatures to 2o Fahrenheit. Most scientists believe we are already seeing the effects of global warming. A study by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found it was behind more than half of the 16 wild weather events in 2013.
The Canadian government has failed to address this issue. Our national average is 18% above the 1990 benchmark. British Columbia’s emissions are 21% above and, as a consequence of the Liberal government’s energy policies, expected to get much worse. Two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, have shown it is possible to reduce GHG levels below 1990 levels. So have cities like Toronto (15% below) and Vancouver (6% below).
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
“We want to get as close to zero as we can in the long term, but we have a lot more work to do to reach our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a third by 2020,” said Pitre-Hayes.
There are several target areas. A lot of attention is given to district energy systems and managing landfill gas. The amount of waste going to landfills has been reduced 12% since 2008. Single-family homes can already use organic composting and the city is very close to offering it to all residential buildings. Vancouver currently has the greenest building code in North America and hopes to adopt a carbon neutral standard for new construction after 2020.
“We’re looking at all the building measures we can put in place and working to increase affordability of our housing stock as well. One route to greening is to include a bunch of advanced technology. A number of the measures within the passive house framework are appealing because they achieve similar energy reductions and they are simple,” said Pitre-Hayes.
Vancouver plans to offer its residents the cleanest drinking water of any city in the world. The emphasis is “to meet or beat every local, national, and international standard.” Pitre-Hayes credits the Metro-Vancouver water filtration plant for the fact there has not been a single tap water quality exceedance since this target was set in 2010.
Breathing The Cleanest Air
“We also have the goal of breathing the cleanest air of any major city in the world and, again, track that by striving to meet or beat the most stringent of local, national, or international standards. Last year we had zero instances of exceedances, but that number varies according to tanker traffic and some surprising events,” said Pitre-Hayes.
“We have had some instances and it is interesting where they come from. Two years ago, when we had our summer fireworks displays, we had 16 about exceedances because the wind was blowing in a direction that lit up our air quality monitoring stations.”
In a more serious vein, she added, “Our biggest work is making sure that the shipping and marine transport that happens around Vancouver is managed so that it does not emit more SO2 (sulphur dioxide) than necessary. A new international regulation to control for SO2 came online at the beginning of 2015.”
Planting 100,000 New Trees By 2020
The city’s air quality will be improved by the goal of planting 100,000 new trees by 2020. Around a third of these will have to go on private land. Vancouver has partnered with local community organizations in a program called Tree Keepers, which makes trees available to residents at a very low price and also offers advice on planting and looking after those trees.
Pitre-Hayes said that 44% of the trips currently made by Vancouverites are on foot, bicycle, or public transit.
“Access to public transit is the biggest piece we have to work on. We are hoping that the upcoming transit referendum will give us an opportunity to make sure there is enough funding coming from other levels of government to build out more public transportation in the region,” said Pitre-Hayes
“Buying a car is lower on many millennials priority list, if they are living in Vancouver. Most of the city is walkable and there is a lot of infrastructure to support other modes of transportation.”
She lives on a bike route and pedals or walks to work. There are about 265 kilometers of bike routes across city, of which 28 km go along the waterfront.
There are also about 600 car-sharing vehicles available through organizations like Modo and Car2Go, and 100 electric charging stations. Most of these are level two, which takes up to 8 hours. There is a single DC fast charging station, which is part of the network stretching from Seattle to Whistler.
“We’re pretty proud about our latest green job numbers,” said Pitre-Hayes.
Increase In The Number Of Green Jobs
A report from last fall showed there has been a 19% increase in the number of green jobs. One out of every 20 Vancouverites works in environmentally friendly sectors like conservation, green building, cleantech, or local food.
“We’ve been able to increase the number of local food-growing sites, or processing sites, or distribution sites by 30% over our 2010 levels. That means we are well over halfway to our 2020 Local Food goal. Residents have seen a number of local gardens and community plots spring up, as well as urban agriculture on city land. Organizations like Soul Food have been given temporary leases to grow food on land that would otherwise be unused,” said Pitre-Hayes.
To Be The World’s Greenest City
She added, “Attempting to be the world’s greenest city by 2020 is certainly an ambitious goal and we’ve had a lot of success, but there is a lot we need to do. A 6% reduction (from 1990 levels) in greenhouse gas emissions across the city is admirable, but it is also only a portion of the way toward our goal. We’re rolling up our sleeves and heads down implementing.
“We will take a heads up approach around the second quarter of this year and talk to residents. We want to make sure the plan is relevant and continues to reflect the needs and wants of the people of Vancouver.”
You may listen to the ECOreport’s interview with Amanda Pitre-Hayes below:
Image Credits: “In case anybody is wondering, it’s raining in Vancouver” by Roland Tanglao, via Flickr (CC By SA, 2.0 License; “Sunrise Shipping” by tdlucas5000, via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); “A Mature Caucasian Wingnut (Scientific Name: Pterocarya fraxinifolia) on the corner of Comox &Chilco” by Wendy Cutler, via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Bicycle Route in Vancouver