100% by 2050 – Vancouver’s roadmap to urban sustainability

Responsible for two-thirds of the world’s carbon emissions and facing rapid urbanisation, cities are embracing new and innovative solutions to meet climate and development objectives. Vancouver, Canada’s third largest city, is leading this urban energy transformation by committing itself to 100% renewables by 2050 through an ambitious, well-defined roadmap that unifies different sectors, stakeholders and communities under its vision for a sustainable, carbon-free future.

As growing evidence confirms, sustainable energy can be promoted at the municipal level through planning, regulation, public procurement, direct investment, provision of services and awareness-raising. City planners and policy makers possess several available levers to steer urban energy systems towards renewables and reap their benefits. IRENA, in collaboration with ICLEI and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), examined Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy in a recent case study, showcasing how bringing together different stakeholders and unifying their outlook is critical for cities to succeed with ambitious renewable energy goals.

With 69% of its energy sourced from fossil fuels, half of which is used to heat buildings, Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy – in conjunction with the Zero Emissions Building Plan – aims to reduce 70% of emissions from new buildings by 2020, 90% by 2025 and 100% by 2030, phasing in changes to building standards that allow the construction industry to adapt over time. Twenty of the 75 largest greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting municipal buildings will be retrofitted to a zero emissions standard over the next 25 years. This measure will contribute 20% of the GHG emissions reductions required to make all municipal buildings carbon neutral by 2040.

Furthermore, the city is looking at district energy – referred to as ‘neighbourhood energy’ in Vancouver – which can be powered by renewables and is viable in densely-settled parts of the city where capital and operating costs can be recovered at rates that are competitive with natural gas. Low-density areas, such as single family homes and low-occupancy apartments, will most likely be supplied with electricity from solar PV or solar thermal, heat pumps which utilise grid-supplied electricity, or on-site wind power.

However, using electricity for building heating and hot water in low-density areas is still expensive in comparison to natural gas. Therefore, the city is emphasizing increased density with current estimates projecting that only 10-15% of households in Vancouver will be single family homes in 2050 compared to 80% of the land in Vancouver currently dedicated to single-family housing.

To reach its sustainability goals, Vancouver is also targeting the other major emitter of carbon in cities – transportation. Three of its Renewable City Strategy priorities are focused on increasing the use of renewable transportation options, reducing motorized transportation demand and the increasing supply of renewable transportation fuels. Even though the city has limited jurisdiction over automobile standards, Vancouver has already taken steps to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles (EV).

For example, the city’s Electric Vehicle Ecosystem Strategy sets out 32 actions intended to increase the number of EV charging spots in homes, workplaces and public spaces in the period from 2016 to 2021. Because Vancouver’s electricity is almost exclusively generated from hydropower, electrification can reduce personal vehicle emissions by up to 97%. Projections show that by 2050 approximately 25% of personal vehicles in Vancouver could be fully electric vehicles, with another 45% comprising plug-in hybrids using a combination of renewable electricity and bio-methane, and the remainder being conventional hybrid vehicles running on bio-methane.

In addition to synergizing existing strategies and plans, Vancouver realises the importance of stakeholder engagement and has taken steps to introduce the public to strategy planning and implementation, collect feedback, and build dialogue between the public and the municipal government, through initiatives such as the ‘Bright Green Summer’ and “100% RE Talks”.

Beyond electric vehicles, Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 Strategy promotes sustainable transportation infrastructure and encourages increased walking, bicycling and public transit use, was key for the city to achieve its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan goal of having over 50% of trips made by walking, cycling or public transit five years early, in March 2015. With the help of the Mobi bicycle sharing programme, cycling is Vancouver’s fastest-growing mode of transport. The city exceeded its target of reducing the average annual distance driven per resident by 20% relative to 2007 levels, having already overachieved a reduction of 32%. MORE

How coastal communities can prepare for the challenges of storms and rising seas

What can a small or medium sized community do to be better prepared for risks of storms and rising seas?

Image result for daily climate: How coastal communities can prepare for the challenges of storms and rising seasCredit: Coast Guard Newa/Fliker

Major coastal storms commonly kill hundreds of people and wreck homes, businesses and communities.

The three major storms in 2017 – Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria – generated some $265 billion in damages and over 3,000 deaths. In 2018, Hurricanes Michael and Florence caused $50 billion in damages and over 100 deaths. Scientists predict that, as the climate warms, coastal storms will become more intense.

A warmer climate also is melting glaciers and ice sheets and accelerating the rate of sea level rise. Global sea level is likely to rise between 2 and 4 feet by 2100 and continue rising for centuries after that. Unfortunately, along the American coast, the rise in sea level could be 15-25 percent higher due to land subsidence and ocean dynamics.

These higher sea levels will drive future storms farther inland, expanding risks to life and property.

Novel challenges posed by coastal flooding

Storms and rising seas pose some novel challenges for coastal communities. For example, most past coastal flooding has been temporary in that storm surges recede and random in terms of where a storm hits the coast. Factoring in sea level rise requires thinking about permanent flooding that occurs along the entire coast.

Rethinking local planning to add sea level rise requires extending the time horizon for planning from the common 5-20 years to more like 50-100 years. This is especially important for decisions related to infrastructure and public facilities. Novel legal issues involving ownership of land at risk of rising seas, including potential “takings” claims, need to be considered.

Communities also face novel financial risks from the one-two punch of coastal storms and rising seas. Damages to coastal property, and eventual permanent inundation, will reduce property tax revenue and the resources available to recover from a major storm. Removing buildings abandoned to the sea can be another unexpected cost.

Steps small communities can take to manage flood risks

Flooding in Houston’s White Oak Park. (Credit: mmmH/flickr)

What can a small or medium sized community do to be better prepared for risks of storms and rising seas?

Once a community decides to engage coastal flood issues a key first step is to assess risk and educate the public. States, Federal agencies, and local universities are all good sources of information about the storm and sea level rise risk that a community faces. Education can include teaching kids about these flood risks in school, engaging the business community, and disclosing flood risks to coastal property.

Communities can also develop or revise plans for managing storms and sea level risks. Key ideas here are to plan for both storms and rising seas and to adopt a planning horizon in the range of 50–100 years. In addition, local plans need to be coordinated with neighboring jurisdictions and give special attention to the needs of low income and minority communities.

One of the most challenging aspects of planning for storms and rising seas is evaluating tradeoffs between structural protection (e.g., seawalls) and phased relocation of homes, businesses, and infrastructure to higher ground as seas rise. Communities need to consider short and long-term costs of these options, impacts on the ecological and recreational values of the coastline, and the social and psychological consequences for people in the community.

Communities have a range of regulatory and financial tools to implement coastal flood plans. For example, communities can use regulatory tools to limit new development in areas identified as at risk of permanent inundation by rising seas.

Communities can also use tax incentives to encourage owners of property at risk of rising seas to gradually step back from risky areas.

Support national investment in safer coasts

Although communities can make progress in preparing for future coastal flood risks acting alone, in many places the scale of the problem and the complexity of solutions will require new and substantially expanded national programs.

What might a new national program look like?

As a first step, the Federal government needs to reform existing programs for flood insurance and disaster relief. The flood insurance program encourages people to stay in risky coastal places that will eventually be inundated by rising seas. Disaster programs do a good job of providing relief after a storm but need to refocus on smarter investments to prepare for and avoid disasters in the first place.

Significant new federal funding is needed for grants for state and local governments to plan for coastal storms and rising seas and for implementation of the plans. Plans need to reflect local needs and conditions but be guided by national frameworks to allocate funding to areas with the greatest needs and to protect the interests of low income and minority populations.

Storms and rising seas are a threat to more than just communities. The federal government needs to work with state and local governments to protect or relocate critical infrastructure, such as military bases, transportation assets, and water facilities. In addition, ecosystems, such as beaches and coastal wetlands, need space to migrate landward as seas rise. The federal government needs to work with states and communities to fit together the puzzle of how best to manage critical infrastructure and ecological resources as coastal communities plan for future flood risks.

Finally, coastal homeowners need help to avoid devastating financial losses as growing flood risks drive down property values and the federal government is best equipped to provide this financial assistance. For example, the federal government could buy risky property well ahead of rising sea levels. Current owners could stay until the property becomes unsafe paying rent but not flood insurance premiums. The federal government would pay local property taxes.

Given the likely increase in coastal storm intensity and steadily rising sea levels, a new federal investment in safer coasts seems sure to happen in time.

A harder question is whether national support will arrive in time to reduce the costs, and toll in lives, that will come with more extensive and permanent flooding.

Communities along the coast can advance their own interests, and those of the country as a whole, by calling on federal agencies and Congress to step up to this important challenge. SOURCE

 

How to misrepresent good climate policy


Photo of windmills by Pricilla du Perez (Pexels.com)

If facts are the colourful pools of paint on an artist’s palette, then perhaps the truth is the whole painting.

Paint, in other words, does not make art without the artist. And a single fact does not make the truth without someone putting it in its proper context.

Unfortunately, politics and artistry don’t always mix, as we witnessed a couple weeks ago around one of the federal government’s most significant climate change policies. No, not the one you’re thinking of. This time, it was the clean fuel standard, a flexible regulation focused on making fuels cleaner.

First, some background: in July, the Conservative Party of Canada announced that, just like the price on pollution, Canada’s clean fuel standard would be met with a falling axe if the party were to form government in October. The policy, one of the two biggest in the federal government’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change alongside carbon pricing, plays a huge role in Canada’s efforts to combat climate change.

In short, scrapping it would mean an even bigger emissions gap relative to our climate target — nearly 40 per cent bigger, in fact.

The argument put forward to scrap it? In Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer’s words, because it’s “a secret fuel tax” that would increase the cost of gasoline by four cents. That number, according to the party, was informed by Clean Energy Canada’s 2017 report on the clean fuel standard, along with stakeholder interviews.

Clean Energy Canada is a think tank at Simon Fraser University focusing on the clean-energy transition and the right measures to accelerate it. Let’s delve into our report, which was created in partnership with Navius Research.

Here are the facts as they pertain to gasoline prices: the clean fuel standard (which was never secret and is literally not a tax) will not become a regulatory requirement for liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel until 2022. It will add a cent or two to the cost of a litre of gasoline in 2025. And it is not until 2030 that the policy could add about five cents to the price at the pump — the range Scheer is referring to. MORE

Because ‘The House Is on Fire,’ Naomi Klein Takes Centrism-Obsessed Media to Task for Failed Climate Coverage

Neoliberal mainstream media is being ignored by more and more people as they search out investigative journalism on social media. Check out stories on The National Observer , The Narwhal, Ricochet, or Rabble and ask yourself why these stories are either downplayed or ignored on traditional media.

“You can’t leave it all to the markets.”

Naomi Klein speaks to the audience at an April 30 CJR/The Nation town hall. Naomi Klein speaks to the audience at an April 30 CJR/The Nation town hall. (Photo: screenshot, YouTube)

News coverage of the climate crisis can no longer rely on the false pretense of objectivity, writer and activist Naomi Klein said Tuesday.

“There is a confirmation bias among the largest chunk of journalists out there who really pride themselves on being centrists,” Klein said Tuesday during a town hall at the Columbia Journalism School in New York. “There’s an absolute fetish for centrism, for seriousness defined by splitting the difference—and not getting too excited about anything”

The mainstream media is “profoundly distrustful of people who are saying ‘actually, the house is on fire,'” Klein said, citing the impulse among many journalists to remain objective and hear both sides.

“But guess what,” said Klein. “The house is on fire.”

MORE

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The moral cowardice of Canadian media is leaving racism unchallenged

How teen climate activists get—and make—climate news

 

 

9 Renewable Energy Highlights of 2018

Image result for Wind farm with solar panels in southern California. 4kodiak / E+ / Getty Images

Despite the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERCEPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies. MORE