Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, commenting on the challenges in the city staff’s new report on climate action, said: “If we are serious about this, we’d better get serious. But we need the community to jump on board.”
The report, titled Climate Action Program Update and Way Forward, starts with the global context: the threat of climate change and the international commitment under the Paris Accord to limit its harm. It reviews past actions by Victoria, bluntly noting that the city’s emissions are going up, not down, and it will likely fail to meet its 2020 targets.
The report then outlines the “dramatic trajectory of greenhouse-gas emission cuts required to get to 2050 80 per cent reduction targets,” and recommends adoption of that target and the related target of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
The B.C. Sustainable Energy Association commends the mayor and council for taking on these twin targets.
We suspect that the people of Victoria and B.C. might now be ready to “get serious.” We have passed the point of asking whether climate change is real. People want to move off fossil fuels and onto renewables. They are looking for ways to do it.
This year, people flocked to sign BCSEA’s petition that says: “I urge my municipality to join this global movement for 100 percent renewable cities.” This spring, a town hall meeting on climate solutions hosted in Esquimalt by MP Randall Garrison was electric with the desire for change. A powerful visceral reaction has been growing in B.C. against oilsands pipelines and coastal tanker traffic.
The solutions aren’t mysterious. They mostly don’t require new technology, but they do require investment and setting the right priorities. And we need leadership to build the sense that we are all in this together, and not all acting alone.
For transportation, the first priority must be to persuade people to get out of their cars and into electrified transit — or better, onto bicycles or their feet. The transit system should be planned to be the main means of travel in the region. We need a co-ordinated and comprehensive cycling network that also works for electric mobility vehicles for our aging demographic.
The remaining cars should be switched as quickly as possible to electric vehicles. The city will have a major role in planning the vehicle-charging infrastructure, but the province must play a crucial role. The building code needs to specify the right numbers of Level 1 or 2 charging stations in apartments and condominiums in new construction and retrofits. The province must develop the charging infrastructure between towns.
There is no magic bullet for freight transportation, but there are many partial solutions, including planning for energy efficiency, electrification of local delivery and senior government signalling to the transportation industry an intention to decarbonize radically.
For buildings, the key is greatly increased efficiency. Modern designs can, at minimal extra cost, greatly reduce the need for space heating and cooling, while increasing occupant comfort. The city can support this with development incentives. Provincial support is needed to upgrade building codes and work-force training.
Retrofitting existing buildings is a bigger problem, requiring engagement with homeowners and other building owners. Incentives are important. Standards and leadership are critical. Europeans lead the world here, demonstrating that systematic efficiency investments can radically reduce energy consumption.
The province holds the key levers: control of the building codes, financial resources to offer incentives and so on. Victoria should make sure the province knows this is a priority.
For its energy supply, Victoria will continue to rely on B.C. Hydro. This can be supplemented with rooftop solar and other renewable resources. These are becoming more affordable all the time.
Revolutionary? Yes, and municipalities are leading. During the UN Paris Climate Conference last December, almost 1,000 mayors announced major commitments on emissions and renewable energy. Groups such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group address climate change from the municipal perspective.
In B.C., Vancouver’s 2015 Renewable City Strategy plans for the same 100 per cent renewable energy target as Victoria’s staff recommends. Saanich has commissioned a 100 per cent Renewable Energy Pathway study, whose results BCSEA will present publicly this fall.
Echoing Helps, the sustainable-energy association urges the city to engage the community, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. With our experience with public outreach on energy and climate, we stand ready to help.
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