Better public transportation is one of the most critical opportunities for the Lower Mainland to reduce its carbon footprint. Nearly 27% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, with 12% coming from cars and trucks, and its been estimated that here in Metro Vancouver, that ratio could be as high as 50%. And because our region is growing so rapidly, we could be destined for even more sprawl, vehicle traffic and carbon pollution unless we proactively choose a different vision for our future.
A mayor's transit plan that called for more buses, rail transit, and HandiDART service throughout Metro Vancouver was voted down in the controversial transit plebiscite in 2014. Fortunately, thanks to $370 million dollars that was allocated to our region in this years Federal budget, improving public transportation in the Lower Mainland is back on the table. But its important that we keep calling for more funding from the province and the feds to invest in this essential climate change solution.
We also need to make sure the money is spent right. Increased regular and night bus service, while less popular than flashy new infrastructure projects, is one of the most fundamental and cost-effective measures for getting people to leave their cars at home, so we need to keep calling on our mayors for more busses now!
Its also important that we don't leave riders behind. According to the HandiDART Riders Alliance, "HandyDART service hours have been frozen since 2009... trip denials went up over 600%.... riders [are] routinely forced to wait for hours... and in 2013, TransLink transferred 10,000 service hours from HandyDART buses to taxis, which endangers many riders."
For those that choose to continue to drive, there are many boosts and benefits to flipping to electric vehicles; in the Lower Mainland, a number of models are available and the range in pricing and features continues to expand. Most electric vehicle models can now drive 100 to 200 kilometres without plugging in. BC drivers can get a rebate of up to $6,000 for going electric and drivers can also benefit from the speedier HOV lanes they are now allowed to use passenger-free. But more incentives like these, as well as the installation of more charging stations across the region are necessary if we want to significantly speed up the transition to electric vehicles.
Finally, need to improve low carbon fuel standards in British Columbia. Effective low carbon fuel standards policy can dramatically reduce life-cycle emissions from standard vehicles, but BC’s standards are weak compared to those set by other jurisdictions like California.
With a growing population and a transition to electric-powered transit system ahead of us, the Lower Mainland's energy demand is increasing. And when it comes to energy management in Canada, the provincial governments rule the roost.
We already have great clean energy policy in BC; over 90% percent of the energy currently generated in British Columbia already comes from renewable hydro-electricity, and there are many opportunities for us to develop new sources of energy via alternative sources such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.
Unfortunately, "we’ve limited the ability of BC Hydro to research, pilot or develop energy projects like solar, wind, biomass or geothermal. These small-scale renewable energy projects spread out the economic and employment benefits across BC, can have a lower impact on ecosystems, and are economically less risky than megaprojects." (Green Jobs BC) While BC Hydro is currently moving forward with the environmentally disasterous Site C project, the province has only two wind farms and solar energy is being produced at the commercial or institutional scale in only one site. http://www.energybc.ca/map/bcenergymap.html
We need to call upon the British Columbia government to create a renewable energy plan for the province that offers incentives and feed-in tarriffs - contracts to producers that are designed to speed up investment in clean energy technology. (Wikepedia) This Pembina Institute Fact-Sheet explains how feed-in tariffs have "consistently demonstrated that they are, to date, the most effective mechanism to stimulate a rapid, sustained and diverse deployment of renewable energy." Ontario's renewable energy plan was one of the first in North America to incorporate a feed-in tarrif structure that bolstered the use of wind turbines throughout the province.
Here in the Lower Mainland, investing in rooftop solar panels can help to unhook Lower Mainland homes from a power grid producing high emissions, but in addition to a large initial investment, extremely costly permits are currently required by many municipalities across the country. Vancouver-based non-profit SPEC, has been working to create awareness around this issue and to pressure municipalities like the City of Vancouver to adopt an expedited permit process that would make home solar installations more affordable and accessible.
SPEC also says Vancouver’s requirements are the most expensive, longest and complex of any municipality in Canada. Vancouver has suggested that they will consider some policy and fee structure changes, but the proposed changes don’t drop the costs much; they will still be at least three times higher than in the cities of Toronto and Calgary. This is not an encouraging prospect for homeowners in what is already one of Canada’s least affordable cities. We need to put pressure on all our mayors and councils to make green energy more affordable and accessible throughout Lower Mainland Municipalities.
Ensuring that both new and existing buildings meet high standards of energy efficiency saves tax payer money on heating and electrical bills, reduces our carbon footprint, and creates green jobs over the next ten years, and according to Green Jobs BC, "A mixture of financing options, grants and rate incentives would allow for [existing] residential, business and industrial buildings to get more efficient.... These mechanisms will also enhance training and apprenticeship opportunities for workers in green trades, and provide steady work for those who already have experience."The federal government has already committed to investing in green infrastructure o
A great first step would be to require all public buildings to be carbon neutral, by fixing BC's controversial Carbon Neutral government program, which currently requires all public sector organizations and local governments to measure, reduce, offset and report their carbon emissions, with th
While it sounds great in theory, the plan has been widely criticized for forcing school boards and local governments to hand over millions of dollars in industry subsidies (including the natural gas sector) by purchasing carbon offsets via a regulatory body formerly called the Pacific Carbon Trust. Two years after the program was initiated, BC's auditor general released a 2013 report claiming "this claim of carbon neutrality is not accurate, as neither project provided credible offsets." He went on to add that "of all the reports I have issued, never has one been targeted in such an overt manner by vested interests, nor has an audited organization ever broken my confidence, as did the senior managers at the PCT." e objective of making all government buildings in the province carbon neutral.
Similarly, the technology for net zero buildings - buildings which produce as much energy as they consume - is readily available, and yet these buildings continue to be the exception, rather than the rule of building construction. Important strides could be gained in this arena via upgrades to our provincial building code.
In a 2015 report, Evolution of Energy Requirements in the Provincial Building Code, the Pembina institute concludes that "BC does not yet have energy efficiency policies in place to “lead the way to net-zero buildings” and lays out a series of recommendations including setting concrete, time-bound targets for how we are going to get to net-zero and making the additional amendments required to actualize these goals.
It also cites several examples of jurisdictions that are leading in this arena, including the City of Vancouver, which has its own separate building code and has been making greater strides in building energy efficiency than many of the other cities in our region.
The technology, knowledge, and financing for a carbon neutral building sector is truly within our grasp. We need to call on the BC government to cancel their shady carbon offset schemes and create sound policies that enable both the private and public sectors to legitimately reduce emissions to net zero over the next decade.
Public Transit, Renewable Energy, Green Buildings and Technology have the potential to create thousands of great new green jobs across our region, province and country, which is why workers from coast to coast have been calling on all levels of government to create and implement viable plans for local, long-term jobs that Canadians can be proud of.
According to "Transit means business: The Economic case for Public Transit in Canada, "The job-creation powers of transit investment have been confirmed by the British Columbia Treasury Board, which found that spending on transit creates jobs more cost-effectively than spending on other modes of transportation. It estimated that a $1 million transit expenditure creates an average of 21.4 new jobs, compared to 7.5 jobs for the same automotive expense, or just 4.5 jobs in the petroleum industry."
Here in the Lower Mainland, the mayor's transit plan alone would have created "26,322 person years of new direct employment... and a $4.48 billion boost in Metro Vancouver’s GDP." (Green Jobs BC)
Investing in energy efficient buildings has the potential to create hundreds of thousands new jobs, especially in urban centres. The Canadian Labour Congress's One Million Green Jobs plan, estimates that close to half a million jobs could be created by investing in the green building sector over the next ten years.
Green Jobs BC estimates that there are already 23,200 jobs in British Columbia in this sector, and, as this Green Buildings jobs map from the Pembina institute illustrates, that most of them are right here in the Lower Mainland.
According to the Stanford Solutions project, Canada could transition to 100% renewable energy and create 460,013 operations jobs and 290,716 construction jobs in the process. (The project calculates each job as to constitute a generous forty years of full-time employment.) Check out this Pembina clean energy jobs map to see the renewable energy jobs that already exist in British Columbia. BC has potential to develop solar, wind and geothermal energy industries, but we need better provincial policies put in place to help us get there.
With the right investments, we can grow our clean tech sector, which already employs more people than the tar sands Canada-wide. Check out this great report from Cred BC report illustrates that "BC’s tech sector is growing at double the rate of the overall provincial economy," and calls for "more strategic investments... to help BC achieve its potential."
The health of our planet and future generations depends on us taking our role as the real governing power seriously. We need to hold this government accountable for its commitments and hold ourselves accountable to act and speak honestly. - Dr. Pamela Palmater, rabble.ca
The relationships between settler Canadians, the federal government, and the Indigenous peoples of this land have been fraught with violence and oppression since the earliest days of contact, and the pathways toward healing and reconciliation are challenging, uncharted and complex.
But the energy transition journey we are on is offering us a huge opportunity to take a step in the right direction. Its time to make some fundamental changes to the way we engage with those who have lived here since time immemorial, and shift toward new decision-making and governance models which uplift the dignity and integrity of us all.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) is a 2007 document which outlines the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” A key tenet of UNDRIP is that governments cannot continue to make major decisions that impact the lives and territories of Indigenous peoples without their "free, prior and informed consent." (FPIC)
The importance of implementing FPIC principle was reiterated in Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Action, which unsurprisingly, the Harper government refused to adopt. But prior to last year's federal election Justin Trudeau pledged to implement the UNDRIP and claimed, "we know we are going to have to go through the books entirely and repeal and reform many pieces of legislation that do not respect the rights of Indigenous peoples in this country."
Many First Nations people have expressed concerns that Trudeau may now be backing away from these promises so its more important that ever that we continue to hold this new government accountable to these "minimum standards for survival, dignity and well-being," and not allow FPIC to become confused with the more ambiguous notion of "consultation" that is currently enshrined in our constitution. This Amnesty International fact sheet gives a great overview of FPIC and how it differs from other terms like 'veto' and "consultation."
UNDRIP and FIPC are just the first steps. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action outlines 94 steps toward reconciliation and calls upon faith groups, the corporate sector, and all levels of government to implement them. The deadline for implementing most of these calls to action has already passed, and this year's budget has been criticized for failing short on many levels to live up to the TRC's vision of reconciliation.
You can help hold your municipal, provincial, federal and church leaders accountable. And you can start by reading the Calls to Action and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People today.
"Resource extraction and other major development projects on or near indigenous territories are one of the most significant sources of abuse of indigenous people's worldwide. In its prevailing form, the model for advancing with natural resource extraction within the territories of indigenous peoples appears to run counter to the self-determination of indigenous people in the political, social and economic spheres."
The great and challenging transition that all of us are playing a part of right now requires that we exchange old and ineffective decision making models with robust democratic processes underpinned by explicit, transparent criteria for assessing all new energy and major infrastructure projects. But to date, Canada's environmental assessment laws are fundamentally broken, and where projects like Kinder Morgan are concerned, BC's environmental assessment process is functionally inexistent.
That's partially due to changes to both federal and provincial environmental assessment law changes that took place throughout the Harper era. But things are changing. Justin Trudeau has openly acknowledged that the NEB has lost public confidence and vowed to fix our environmental assessments in his platform. The province, on the other hand, was recently found to have acted unconstitutionally by failing to consult First Nations when it waived its right to conduct a provincial environmental assessment via a document called an "equivalency agreement", and BC is now mandated issue its own environmental certificates to Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan. These developments mean we have an opportunity to make these processes better!
Our friends at West Coast Environmental Law have been leading the way to hold the government accountable for revamping our EA laws to include First Nations decision-making power, broad public participation and rigorous climate tests. You can find out more about the amazing work they are doing here.
But its of utmost importance that when it comes to enacting a climate test, the public stays aware and engaged. The government will be under great pressure to ensure that any new policies they enact don't act to compromise their relationship with the oil and gas lobby, and the fact is, meeting our Paris target means we'll have to leave fossils in the ground. Faced with this difficult dilemma, the Liberals have already stated that they will not consider the "downstream" climate impacts of Kinder Morgan, meaning their interim climate test will consider less than 20% of the projects total emissions.
If we're going to meet our Paris targets, and really commit to embracing a clean energy future, its essential that we demand rigorous climate tests that consider the full life cycle emissions of all projects, and draw a firm line against all proposals that would stand in the way of 1.5 degrees. If you want to read more about ongoing climate test politics, here's a few links that will give you a broader picture.