New centre for Vancouver to spur urban climate action, especially building retrofits

Retrofitting is a priority for the newly-announced  Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre, to be administered through the Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. According to the SFU press release of January 12, the Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre “will be seeded by a generous $21.7 million endowment from the federal government to identify, finance and scale up local climate solutions, such as building retrofits and electrification of transportation.”  The top priorities stated include “ “Identifying and initiating programmatic priorities, and integrating the Zero Emission Building Exchange to support building sector capacity building”.  For now, though, “the new centre’s work will start modestly. It is expected to grow steadily through partnership, programming investment, leveraging and innovative financing”.  The launch of the Centre is scheduled for  September 2021, after input is gathered “from a range of stakeholders, including local and provincial government, industry, non-profit organizations and the finance sector.”

The Vancouver Centre will be modelled on The Atmospheric Fund – originally known as the Toronto Atmospheric Fund when it was established in 1991 through the advocacy of then-Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton and Dan Leckie.  The Atmospheric Fund now serves Canada’s largest urban area, the Greater Toronto/Hamilton region of approximately 7 million people, and is part of  the  Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3), a  partnership which also includes Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, as well as  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

In What does Canada’s new $15 billion plan mean for urban climate action?” (Dec. 15), The Atmospheric Fund reviews the federal government’s latest climate plan and discusses the two sectors most relevant to municipalities: buildings and transportation. The Atmospheric Fund states that its own priorities for 2021, include: “Partnering with housing providers to initiate deep retrofits in 3,000 housing units this year; Mobilizing $150 million in investment to leverage public funding and attract more capital into low-carbon activity;  Supporting municipalities to adopt green development standards for new buildings and performance standards for existing ones; Providing grants and investment capital to enable even more low-carbon activity like workforce development (clean jobs!) and EV charger installations; and Publishing new research on growing challenges like fugitive methane emissions and embodied carbon in new construction.” 

The governance of climate action in Toronto and Vancouver is summarized in a new article by three academics from the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto, “Strategies and Governance for Implementing Deep Decarbonization Plans at the Local Level, published in the latest issue of the journal Sustainability. It offers case studies of the best practices in climate action governance in Toronto and Vancouver, along with Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; Guelph, Ontario; Park City and New York City in the U.S., Lahti in Finland and Oslo in Norway. These cities range in size from 8,400 people to 9.6 million, but were chosen as “leading and ambitious” cities. The authors identify the importance of transnational networks in city decarbonization planning, and highlight their efforts “to expand their green economies and the capacity of their workforces to meet the future demand for skilled workers, especially in the buildings and construction sectors.”

And briefly:  A recent article in the New York Times also noted the importance of retrofitting: “New York’s real climate challenge: Fixing its aging buildings” (Dec. 29, New York Times). Stating that  “Nearly 70 percent of the city’s total carbon emissions come from buildings. A project to retrofit nine buildings with green technology is pioneering a new solution”.   The article describes the Casa Pasiva retrofitting project , one of a number of  RetrofitNY projects funded by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority.

Vancouver approves Climate Emergency Action Plan and promises a Climate Justice Charter

On November 17, Vancouver City Council approved a Climate Emergency Action Plan, a roadmap for the city to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, with a focus on  the biggest local sources – fossil fuels use in vehicles (39% of city emissions) and in buildings (54%). According to the official Summary, goals for 2030 include 50% of the km driven on Vancouver’s roads to be by zero emissions vehicles, and 40% less embodied emissions from new buildings and construction projects compared to 2018. The plan will cost $500 million over the next five years, according to reporting from Business in Vancouver .

Detailed documentation is available here , and the 318-page staff proposal presented to City Council on November 3rd is here . As reported by Business in Vancouver  and  The Georgia Straight , all 19 action items proposed by staff did not survive debate. The most contentious issues related to plans for a “walkable city” and a proposal for congestion pricing for the city centre. Staff were directed to prepare a report for Council by 2022 on that issue. The Georgia Straight  reproduces all the motions from the debate, indicating next steps, and how the final approved plan differs from the staff proposals.

Consultation process included a Climate and Equity Working Group

The Climate Emergency Action Plan drew on a citizen consultation process, described in detail in the staff  proposal document .  One of the key features of the consultation process:  a Climate and Equity Working Group (as described in Appendix N at page 251) which included “a rich mix of perspectives including new immigrants, people with disabilities, people with low income, urban Indigenous. The majority of participants were racialized people.” However, the report also notes that the process lacked voices from some Indigenous nations, as well as seniors, youth LGBTQ2+ community, and  “While the majority of participants were women, there was no voice specific to gender equity. These gaps need to be addressed in future engagement as part of implementation work and in the reformation of the Climate and Equity Working Group.” The Emergency Action Plan approved by Council on November 17 promises:  “Our equity work on climate policies and programs will be shaped by the forthcoming Climate Justice Charter, the Equity Framework, the Reconciliation Framework, the Healthy City Strategy, Vancouver’s Housing Strategy, and the Women’s Equity Strategy.”

Financial giants targeted by new U.S. divestment campaign; Youth challenge the Davos elites to stop investing in the fossil fuel economy immediately

stop the money pipeline targetsLaunched at Jane Fonda’s final #FireDrillFriday event in Washington D.C. on January 10, the Stop the Money Pipeline , according to a Sierra Club press release , will consolidate a number of existing divestment campaigns and target the worst climate offenders in each part of the financial sector. The first campaign round consists of three major targets: amongst banks:  JP Morgan Chase;  amongst  insurance companies: Liberty Mutual;  and amongst asset managers, BlackRock. Groups involved in Stop the Money Pipeline are: 350.org,  Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Sierra Club, Greenpeace USA, Sunrise Project, Future Coalition, Divest Ed, Divest-Invest, Native Movement, Giniw Collective, Transition U.S., Oil Change International, 350 Seattle, EarthRights International, Union of Concerned Scientists, Majority Action, The YEARS Project, and Amazon Watch.

The Stop the Money Pipeline website  has archived some of the arguments for their campaign – including Bill McKibben’s September Commentary in the New YorkerMoney Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns”, and “Why Big Banks Are Accused Of Funding The Climate Crisis” in  HuffPost  in October 2019.  The campaign launch has been described in “Climate Movement Takes Aim at Wall Street, Because ‘Money Is Only Language Fossil Fuel Industry Speaks‘” in Common Dreams (Jan. 9);   , and  in  “Want to do something about climate change? Follow the money” in the New York Times  on Jan. 11. In that Opinion piece, Bill McKibben and Lennox Yearwood Jr.  describe their arrest at a sit- in at the Chase Bank which was part of the campaign launch. Democracy Now also covered the events in  “Stop the Money Pipeline”: 150 Arrested at Protests Exposing Wall Street’s Link to Climate Crisis  on January 13 .

Are campaigns having any effect?

Perhaps it is just coincidence, but on January 9,  BlackRock announced it is signing on to  Climate Action 100+, a global investor network formed in 2015 and which includes California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), HSBC Global Asset Management, and Manulife Asset Management.   BlackRock also announced a new investment strategy, summarized in  “BlackRock Will Put Climate Change at Center of Investment Strategy”   in the New York Times (Jan. 14) . The NYT article emphasizes the company’s influence as the world’s largest investment fund with over $7 trillion under management, and states that “this move … could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit.”  The new strategy is outlined in two Annual Letters from BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink:  Sustainability as BlackRock’s New Standard for Investing , the letter to corporate clients states, “Our investment conviction is that sustainability-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors”.  The second letter, titled A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance, acknowledges that  protests have had an impact on their position: Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. Last September, when millions of people took to the streets to demand action on climate change, many of them emphasized the significant and lasting impact that it will have on economic growth and prosperity – a risk that markets to date have been slower to reflect.”   He continues: “…. awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.… climate change is almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise with BlackRock. ….   In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”  However, this urgency seems somewhat at odds with another statement in the Letter to CEO’s: “…. While the low-carbon transition is well underway, the technological and economic realities mean that the transition will take decades. Global economic development, particularly in emerging markets, will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for a number of years. As a result, the portfolios we manage will continue to hold exposures to the hydrocarbon economy as the transition advances.”

Other divestment developments:

Urgency is a key theme in a new public call by Greta Thunberg and other youth leaders.  “At Davos we will tell world leaders to abandon the fossil fuel economy” – an Opinion piece carried by The Guardian on January 10,  directed to the world’s economic elite scheduled to gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January. The core message is urgent:  “We call upon the world’s leaders to stop investing in the fossil fuel economy that is at the very heart of this planetary crisis. Instead, they should invest their money in existing sustainable technologies, research and in restoring nature.. …Anything less than immediately ceasing these investments in the fossil fuel industry would be a betrayal of life itself. Today’s business as usual is turning into a crime against humanity. We demand that leaders play their part in putting an end to this madness. Our future is at stake, let that be their investment. An article in Common Dreams on January 10 highlights the youth campaign and notes that it aligns with Stop the Money Pipeline .

C40 Cities released a new toolkit on January 7:  Divesting from Fossil Fuels, Investing in Our Future: A Toolkit for Cities.   The toolkit is directed at city officials, outlining steps required to divest their pension funds from fossil fuels. It includes eight successful case studies –  from Auckland, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, MelbourneNew York City, Oslo, and Stockholm – all of whom have divestment experience and none of whose city pension funds were negatively impacted by divestment.  C40 Cities is a network of 94 municipalities with a population of over 700 million people, active in promoting climate change action at the municipal level.

Proposals to “Electrify Quebec” will bring cleaner transportation; Montreal proposes standards for heating buildings

francois legaultOn May 26, at the party conference of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), Premier Francois Legault announced intentions to “electrify Quebec”, reduce oil consumption by  40 per cent by 2030, and reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 per cent by 2030.   According to a report from iPolitics , Legault stated “The greatest contribution Quebec can make to save the planet is by helping our neighbours replace their coal-fired, gas fired generators with clean hydroelectricity,”  and he is working to increase hydro-electric exports to New York State.  Regarding electrification of transportation, he proposed to extend Montreal’s electrified light rail network already under construction to the off-island suburbs; to complete a proposed extension of the Montreal’s subway;  new tramways for Montreal and Quebec City; a commuter train link in Gatineau; and  greater use of electric buses.  He noted that two Quebec companies, Bombardier and Alstom, have the capacity to supply the rolling stock for new rail cars and electric buses. He also announced that Quebec’s electric vehicle subsidies will continue, benefitting rural Quebecers without access to transit options. Although plans are far from specific, Legault promised to finance his green plans from the proceeds from Quebec’s Green Fund, with the revenues from its cap and trade auctions.

In response to the recent proposal for an “energy corridor” from Alberta’s new Premier Jason Kenney to bring western crude oil across Canada, Legault stated “There is no social acceptability for an oil pipeline in Quebec.”

Montreal announces 2030 targets to phase out oil heating in buildings: The city of Montreal  is one of hundreds of Canadian municipalities which has declared a climate emergency   – and has been under flood emergency warnings throughout May.  On May 6, in a press release, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante  announced that the city is developing a plan to  reach carbon neutrality for all municipal buildings by 2030, for all new buildings by 2030, as well as for all existing buildings, by 2050, and have earmarked $4 million by 2021 for the effort.  A CBC  report states  that environmentalists are disappointed at the slow pace and weak level of ambition , and one of the key city councillors resigned, calling for stronger “war measures” against climate change, including a tax on meat, no airport expansion, and planting a half-million trees.  The tree-planting proposal seems particularly urgent, given the heat wave deaths  in Montreal in 2018 – 42 officially attributed to heat by Quebec’s chief coroner,  but with that number still under investigation, and the possibility of  a public inquiry. “Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  quotes Montreal Public Health official estimates of 66  heat-related deaths that summer. It also explains what the city’s public health officials have done to analyse the causes and patterns – identifying vulnerable populations and areas – and  calling for a greening of the city on a massive scale, including trees,  roofs and architecture .

Update: On May 22, the Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced an investment of $2,777,960 in four green infrastructure projects in the Greater Montreal Area, including Laval.  Most of the investment will go to infrastructure and re-naturalization through tree planting, to mitigate the heat island effect and flooding in the city.

How local government policies can encourage energy efficiency jobs and training

Through the Local Government Lens: Developing the Energy Efficiency Workforce, is a report released on June 13 by the American  Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy (ACEEE).  It cites  data from the  2018 U.S. Energy & Employment Report, which reported  that there are 2.25 million efficiency jobs in the U.S. currently – 1.27 million of which are in the construction trades, followed by 450,000 in professional and business services.  The report dives more deeply into the demographics and characteristics of the energy efficiency workforce, and discusses the unique challenges of workforce development policies – the need to replace a retiring workforce, funding uncertainty for job creation and infrastructure, a need to encourage diversity, and a complex set of stakeholders,  given that there is no single educational or skills path for efficiency workers. The report includes unions and union-led training in its discussion of stakeholders and in its recommended strategies for workforce development policies.

Case studies with various approaches are presented from across the U.S., with the sole Canadian example of Vancouver, B.C.  For example: Boston, where training in energy building management is provided to city and utility workers at local community colleges;  New Orleans, where the city coordinates with U.S. Green Building Council, local community colleges, the New Orleans Office of Supplier Diversity, and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide efficiency-related training to low-income community members and minority- and women-owned businesses; and Los Angeles, which has established a Cleantech Incubator to attract new businesses and private-sector investment to the city. Other U.S. cities discussed are New York City, Orlando Florida, and  Columbus Ohio.

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCVancouver, B.C. launched several initiatives to teach skills required to build in accordance with its Zero Emissions Building Plan, approved in 2016.  The city plans to subsidize training  for builders and developers to learn more about passive house design standards, technical building requirements, economic and energy impacts, and energy modeling tools.  Vancouver will also contribute funds to the Zero Emissions Building Centre of Excellence, a nonprofit-run collaborative platform that will compile and disseminate zero-emission building educational resources to the local building industry.

A blog summarizes the report; it is available free from this link, registration is required.