I asked Councillor Reimer what had propelled Vancouver to such success. “Above all, it takes leadership,” she responded. “We have the power to make significant changes in our city that address climate change – from building more bike lanes, to creating neighbourhood energy utilities that power new, dense and livable urban communities like the Olympic Village. Mayor Robertson and city council have embraced the challenge to do all that’s in our power to do.”
Linda Nowlan and Vancouver City Councillor Andrea Reimer in front of Malmo City Hall at EHCC conference in Sweden.
When he took office in 2008, Mayor Gregor Robertson was inspired to set an outrageously ambitious goal for Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. He had a solid base to start with: Abundant clean, green, hydroelectric energy; urban leadership dating back 2 decades to the prescient Clouds of Change report that focused on improving air quality; and a hyper-environmentally aware population. After all, Greenpeace was born in Vancouver. The concept of the ‘ecological footprint’, one of WWF’s guiding philosophies, was conceived at the city’s University of British Columbia.
One of the mayor’s first actions was to form the Greenest City Action Team (GCAT). (Full disclosure: I was a proud member of GCAT, and took no part in the voting for the Earth Hour City global awards). As Councillor Reimer said “I remember thinking at the first meeting of GCAT, are we crazy? Can we really become the world’s greenest city?”
“Yet it took less than two years to put most of these actions in motion. We managed to implement the 84 quick start actions that the team recommended in a pretty short time.”
All of the goals and targets of Vancouver’s Action Plan are now well underway. Strong public involvement is another key to the city’s success. Councillor Reimer pointed out that “In addition to the GCAT, we’ve formed numerous advisory committees and draw on the work of over 1,000 graduates of the City Studio, a program that enlists students for interdisciplinary action-oriented work on the most pressing urban sustainability issues.”
Vancouver’s powers do have limits. A city can only do so much. The big changes need giant steps from the federal and provincial governments. A quick comparison between the relative per capita greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s largest city Toronto that has not put climate change at the forefront of its policy agenda, and Vancouver, shows the difference. Toronto is at 9.3 tonnes gg. per person while Vancouver’s number is 4.6, the lowest number of any major city in all of North America. To put all Canadian cities in the same league as Vancouver, we need more action from senior governments.
Leadership indeed. Congratulations, Vancouver on your hat trick at the EHCC: national , global and People’s Choice earth Hour champion.