Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

More support for urban density

With federal climate change policy stalled by bureaucratic red tape and the oil lobby, B.C.'s municipalities are emerging as key players in the push to a carbon-neutral society.

"People still do not realize the scale of the problem," warned Dr. John Robinson, a co-author of the last three UN-sponsored climate change reports and the keynote speaker at a conference on climate change and local government held in Vancouver last week.

Addressing over a hundred city councilors and mayors from around the province, Dr. Robinson explained that 10 to 15 per cent of the world's species are already doomed to extinction, and the effects of rising sea levels, drying aquifers, increased droughts and floods will be equally fierce for humanity. "We have to go way beyond climate policy," he urged. "Simply mitigating present unsustainable patterns is not nearly enough. We're not going to solve this by taking shorter showers."

Though he praised the provincial government for formulating "the only clear greenhouse gas reduction plan in North America," which targets a 33 per cent reduction in 2000 GHG emissions by 2020, Dr. Robinson insisted that the real opportunity for change exists at the municipal level, saying "provinces and countries are too unwieldy to effect the necessary changes."

He identified five areas where local communities can effect positive change: Housing density, land use, transport infrastructure, water and energy systems.

Greater density has a number of proven downward effects on greenhouse gas emissions. It helps increase the efficiency of water and energy systems by diminishing the distance they need to travel, it reduces the distance people travel by car and it makes public transit cheaper and more effective. Most importantly, it's something city councils have directly control because they, not the province or feds, have the authority to issue building permits.

And while building codes are outside of municipal jurisdiction, city councils can encourage developers to spend more on green buildings by providing incentives to do so.

Virtually every town and city in the province has signed onto B.C.'s Climate Action Plan, which aims to make government operations carbon neutral by 2012. Vancouver is leading the way, and among other things is already saving about $1 million a year from green retrofits on government buildings.

"We need to get across that although they might be expensive initially, retrofits are an investment that definitely save us money in the long run," said Sean Pander, the city's climate change program manager.

"It costs a lot more to build something according to LEED Gold standards," said Douglas Race, a Squamish councilor who was in the audience. 'Very few developers are going to do it on their own, and we can't make them. But what we can do is say to them hey, if you build to gold standards, we'll let you put up a six story condo instead of the four stories we would otherwise allow. That way the developer can actually make more money by going green."

Many contributors to climate change remain beyond the scope of municipal authority, of course, with industry chief among them. Harjap Grewal, a regional organizer for of the Council of Canadians, suggests that B.C.'s participation in Alberta's tar sands development, via several thousand kilometers of existing and proposed pipeline transporting oil to our coast, might single-handedly nullify any gains made by the Climate Action Plan.

Even so, things are looking up for city councils across the province, especially with the signing into law of Bills 10 and 27 over the last two years. The two bills dramatically increase municipalities' powers over local development, and were specifically enacted with climate change in mind.

Arno Kopecky is a freelance journalist.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus