By Anna Boltenko
It has been said that communities play a critical role in climate change mitigation through the adoption of policies and actions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In the City of North Vancouver, climate change is where the shoes meet the path. Fundamental to the City’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is deepening the City’s pledge to manage public and private land-use, increase walkable opportunities, make convenient transportation decisions and change social behaviour patterns.
The North Vancouver City Council committed unanimously in February 2019 to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2040 and to reach net zero by 2050. This bold commitment aligns with the special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating that emissions must by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to avoid the impacts of climate change.
However, the Notice of Motion only suggests to incorporate new targets in all future city plans and budgets and does not include any direct expenses in climate action. This lack of precision makes it possible that City could just comply with the letter of the law but not it’s intent.
Municipal officials often failed to understand how their community contributes to global warming or how they can be affected by it. Even if they have become aware that climate change is a real global issue, they have tended not to consider it as a local matter.
When cities have begun to adopt targets, their planning efforts have often been impeded by variable data, methodological uncertainty, political obstacles, and a general lack of resources.
How should the City North Vancouver government evaluate its effectiveness in achieving new bold targets and mitigating climate change?Usually, GHG reduction trends are the primary basis for assessing and reporting on its effectiveness.
But the City’s last inventory on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – which measures the emissions from energy use in buildings, industry, vehicles, and waste – was only in 2010. It indicated that the City of North Vancouver “consumes less energy and produces fewer emissions per combined residents and employment than most other Metro Vancouver communities” (City of North Vancouver CEEI Report Review and Comparison to Metro Municipalities Introduction).
Yet judging effectiveness solely by GHG emissions can be ambiguous. For one thing, the 2010 City’s Report admits that GHG emissions are difficult to monitor. Moreover, even with precise tracking, it can be challenging to attribute changes in North Vancouver’s (city) GHG emissions to a given project, initiative, or policy.
A City’s GHG emissions are the product of a complex network of factors, including the weather, economic conditions, policy choices made by other local authorities, individual behavioural choices, and the actions of City government.
Even identifying the potential GHG emissions savings from a particular program or policy can be technically challenging, and attributing a percentage decrease (or increase) in the City’s GHG emissions to the implementation of a specific city initiative is almost impossible.
Relying on GHG emissions as a single metric of effectiveness, therefore, provides an overly optimistic or an overly pessimistic view of how active the City has been in implementing its climate change mitigation plan.
Cities like Toronto, New York, and San Francisco usually use additional metrics to evaluate effectiveness.
One is the city’s progress on its stated climate change mitigation goals. Such goals may include conducting an annual GHG emissions inventory, conducting a feasibility assessment for solar energy, or developing a reporting platform for commercial building energy use.
A second is social behaviour change. Evidence of behaviour change is also more readily obtainable than evidence of GHG emissions reductions. For example, smoking has been in “a steady decline since the 1960s with all sorts of factors driving this trend—improved science, education through labeling and advertising campaigns, and greater public awareness of risks” — all of this could be applied to behaviours that commit to climate actions. And the opportunities are endless: from telecommuting and public transit to wasting less food. But it takes time.
Look at, for example, some of the obstacles in switching to a plant-rich diet, which can lead to reduction as high as 70–80% of GHG emissions and land use by adopting sustainable dietary patterns. Changing one’s eating habits can be difficult because it requires new food practices and learning about alternative sources of vitamins and microelements.
Cultural barriers and where you live are also involved. There’s also an anticipated lack of pleasure associated with going meatless because many carnivores see vegetarian diets as boring.
Other changes need to take place outside the City government, such as changes in household commuting patterns, installing electric vehicles charging stations or solar panels on commercial, institutional, and residential buildings. Measurements such as the use of public transportation, the number of companies reporting their energy use can also be instrumental.
Anna Boltenko ran for City of North Vancouver council in the recent election.