Gregor Robertson wants to make Vancouver a green city, but what progress has been made?

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Stankey Park Vancouver skyline / Shutterstock

Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver team released the Greenest City Action Plan in 2011 with the goal of making Vancouver the ‘greenest city in the world’ by 2020.

The plan is broken up into 10 sections: green economy, climate leadership, green buildings, green transportation, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air and local food.

According to the Green City Action Plan, these 10 sections each have a long-term goal to be met by 2050 and a mid-term goal to be met by 2020.  Overall, the 10 plans are designed to meet three areas of focus: carbon, waste and eco systems.

We take a closer look at some of the Green City Action Plan’s targets to see what kind of environmental progress has been made for the city and how the candidates in the upcoming civic election have integrated the environment and the ‘green living’ concept into their platforms.

Green Economy

In terms of creating a greener economy, the aim is to “secure Vancouver’s reputation as a mecca of green enterprise.”

A major part of this is increasing the amount of ‘green jobs.’ The action plan states that by 2020 the City has a goal of doubling the number of green jobs from 2010 (16,700 jobs) levels by 2020.

Before delving into the progress of Vancouver’s green economy so far, it is important to understand what exactly constitutes as a ‘green job.’ The action plan uses the same term that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to define what a green job is. According to the UNEP, these jobs, “contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environment quality, reduce energy, materials and water consumption … decarbonize the economy and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.”

Jennifer Winter, a research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, provides a critical look at the term green job and how it is often, “rhetoric [that is] misleading and dodgy policy.” This is because it is often very tricky to define exactly what a green job is as most industries produce,  “both green and non-green goods and services.”

Green jobs can fall under the following employment sectors:

  • Local food
  • Clean tech and building products
  • Green transportation and planning
  • Waste management and recycling
  • Land and water remediation and environmental consulting
  • Green building design and construction
  • Sustainability, services, public sector and education
  • Traditional sectors

Climate Leadership

By 2020, the City’s goal is to have greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 33 per cent from 2007 levels.

Green house gasses are emitted from cars, buildings (homes and residential structures), solid waste and heavy-duty vehicles.

The total greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 were calculated at 2,755,000 tCO2e (tonnes of CO2 equivalent).

The 2013-2014 Greenest City Action Plan Implementation Update reported that greenhouse gas emissions had reduced by 6 per cent since 2007. In 2013, the total emissions were 2,585,000 tCO2e. The update notes that Vancouver is on track to reach its goal of 1,846,000 tCO2e by 2020.

However, if Vancouver’s green house gas emissions keep dropping at of 6 per cent every six years, the city will not reduce emissions by 33 per cent by 2020.

The updated report does not provide any data showing projections of predicted green house gas reduction over the next six years so it is unclear as to how the city will achieve that goal.

Green Buildings and Green Transportation

When asking why Vancouver is slow to reach its green house gas targets, looking at green building and green transportation progress may be helpful.

The green building targets include requiring all buildings constructed from 2020 onwards to be carbon neutral in operations and reducing energy use as well as greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings by 20 per cent from 2007 levels.

The update report shows that in 2007 buildings emitted 1,145,000 tCO2e and in 2013 that amount was down 3 per cent to 1,110,000  tCO2e.

The goal for 2020 is to reach 916,000 tCO2e. With a three per cent reduction rate over the past six years, there is still a long way to go in order achieve that target.

According to a Vancouver Sun report, approximately 55 per cent of green house gas emissions in Vancouver come from buildings.

Of that amount, detached homes are responsible for 31 per cent of emissions. About 40,000 of the city’s 77,000 detached homes are over 50 years old. Older homes often need to replace insulation, hot water tanks and windows in order to decrease emissions.

In order to reach the 2020 green building target goal, the City says that it has been working on demolition permits, replacing Fire Hall No.5, green home building policies, rezoning for sustainable large developments and improving the Vancouver building bylaw.

Improvements in green transportation also need to be made in order to reach the 2020 target.The action plan envisions Vancouverites making 50 per cent of trips by foot, bicycle and transit by 2020. In 2008, foot, bicycle or transit made up forty per cent of commuter trips. In 2012, it increased to 44 per cent.

The second transportation goal is to reduce the average distance driven per resident by 20 per cent from 2007 levels.

The update report does not include data from 2007, nor does it have current statistics on distance driven by Vancouverites. The report says a new survey will be conducted in late 2014 that will provide more information on this issue.

Roberston has always been an advocate for biking and there are 265 kilometers of bike network (bike trails and paths) across the city. However, biking is not an ideal solution for everyone. Those who have families to transport have a long distance to travel, people with disabilities, and seniors may be more dependent on transit, which is not under direct municipal jurisdiction.

It is no secret that Vancouver’s transit system is not always reliable; there have been several delays and stoppages of the system over the past year.

Furthermore, rapid transit is not available in high-density traffic zones such as the Broadway corridor – the busiest bus route in North America.

With 2,000 busses passing up users every morning along the Broadway stretch and 100,000 more people expected in the area by 2040, building rapid transit to UBC is a definitely needed.

Mayors from the Metro-Vancouver region have approved a 10-year transit plan that TransLink would undertake. This would include building rapid transit to UBC. However, the provincial government must approve the plan. A transit referendum is to be held in June 2015.

Zero Waste

One great thing about Vancouver is that recycling and reducing waste is an evident priority. When you walk around the city, you an often find bins allowing you to recycle your plastic or paper waste, instead of throwing it in the trash.

The City also introduced the Green Bin program, providing residents in houses, duplexes and some multi-unit residential buildings with a green bin to recycle food scraps.

In 2008 there were 480,000 tonnes of solid waste from Vancouver disposed in a landfill or incinerator. In 2012, that amount was reduced by 12 per cent to  424,000 tonnes of waste being disposed.

The target goal for 2020 is to reach 240,000 tonnes of waste going into landfills. In 2012, that amount was reduced by 12 per cent to 424,000 tonnes of waste being disposed. The target goal for 2020 is to reach 240,000 tonnes of waste going into landfills. Hopefully, with a 2015 regional ban on all organic waste at the landfills, the goal for 2020 can be met.

What are the Mayoral Candidate’s Environmental Platforms? 

Gregor Robertson – Vision Vancouver
If re-elected, Robertson wants to continue with the implementation of the Greenest City Action Plan. Vision’s environmental platform also notes that the party is against the building of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, although it is under federal jurisdiction and not provincial. Furthermore, Roberston is committed to the expansion of Vancouver’s bike lanes and cycling network and creating a subway line along the Broadway corridor.

Mena Wong -COPE

COPE also has a strong environmental platform. If elected, Mena Wong plans on saying ‘no’ to and pipelines and making Vancouver a tanker free zone. Some other environmental goals include:

  • Creating greener schools
  • Supporting environmental social movements
  • Supporting local food production
  • Building a more convenient transit system
  • Supporting sustainable resource use

Kirk LaPointe –NPA
Some environmental goals  from LaPointe and his NPA team include:

  • Making Vancouver the car-sharing capital of North America
  • Establishing an environmental advisory committee with partners like the Vancouver Aquarium, UBC, SFU and BCIT
  • Building an affordable underground Broadway subway
  • Vocally opposing Metro-Vancouver’s plan to build a new incinerator

Feature Image: Vancouver skyline via Shutterstock 

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Simran Singh is a Contributor at Vancity Buzz. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Journalism at the University of British Columbia. She is a big fan of coffee, writing and exploring Vancouver. Send a story idea her way at simran@vancitybuzz.com
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