102 Cities globally are sourcing 70% of their energy from renewables

Recent meetings have prompted the release of several new research reports about cities, described as the “front-line of climate action” at the 10th anniversary meetings of the EU’s Covenant of Mayors in February . The biggest meeting, and first-ever Cities and Climate Change Science Conference , was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and was held in Edmonton, Alberta in March 5 – 7. The conference commissioned five reports , and included several others, including “Six Research Priorities for Cities and Climate Change” , which appeared in Nature in February.   Detailed daily coverage of the conference was provided by the International Institute for Sustainable Development  (IISD); the closing press release is here .

In advance of the IPCC Cities conference,  CDP released The World’s Renewable Energy Cities report , with new data that shows  that 102 cities around the world are now sourcing at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewables  (more than double the 40 cities from their list in 2015).  The 102 cities  include Auckland (New Zealand); Nairobi (Kenya); Oslo (Norway); Seattle (USA) and from Canada: Montreal, Prince George ( B.C.), Winnipeg, and  Vancouver.  The full report identifies data by type  of renewable energy: hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaics, biomass and geothermal.  Related, broader reports are: Renewable Energy in Cities: State of the Movement  (Jan. 2018), which offers a global overview of local policy developments and documents  from 2017, and Renewable Energy in Cities  (October 2016) by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

All of  these reports are more encouraging than another recent study in the news:  “Future heat waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities”, which appeared  in Environmental Research Letters in February 2018.   These are warnings we’ve read before, but this study offers unique detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario – Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga and Almeria in Spain. Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.

Some recent news about Canadian cities:

downtown CalgaryAs the IPCC Cities conference met in Edmonton, the nearby City of Calgary convened its own  Symposium  as part of the process to develop its Resilience Plan, to be presented to Council in Spring 2018.  The website provides overview information and links to documentation, including nine research briefs in a series, Building a Climate-Resilient City: Climate Change Adaptation in Calgary and Edmonton  from the Prairie Climate Resilience Centre, a project of the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCVancouver:  The Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver recently released two reports from a collaborative project called “Mapping Enabling Policies for Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Strategy”. The Policy Atlas is a brief, graphic guide ; The Dialogue Report summarizes the views and discussion of 19 participants at a workshop held on November 30, 2017 – and attempts to clarify the roles of the federal, provincial, and local governments around issues such as a zero emission vehicles, energy efficiency in housing, land use planning, and electricfication and distributed energy, among others.

Toronto largeToronto: In February, Toronto City Council approved $2.5 million for its Transform TO climate plan  – which is  a fraction of the $6.7 million in the budget recommended by city staff.  The Transform TO  goals include 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050 (based on 1990 baseline); the website provides documentation and updates.

Finally, the mainstream Globe and Mail newspaper promises a new series of articles focusing on Canadian cities and climate change.  The first installment: “Halifax’s battle of the rising sea: Will the city be ready for future floods and storms?” (March 5).


Cities continue to fight climate change

The North American Climate Summit   held in Chicago from December 4 to 6, 2017  brought together the mayors of 50 cities from Canada, Mexico, France, and Tanzania, to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.  The mayors signed the  Chicago Climate Charter , which is not legally binding but commits the municipalities to at least match the emissions reductions goals of their home countries, and sets out reporting mechanisms. The  Summit was also the setting for  the 5th annual 2017 C40 Cities Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards, which recognized exemplary city  programs from around the world (none of the winners was Canadian). The Summit was co-sponsored by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

U.S. cities in particular are keen to demonstrate their climate change-fighting resolve – many through the “We are Still In” coalition which formed after President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and which was very active at the COP23 meetings in Bonn.  Additionally, the Sierra Club has published  the Cities are Ready for 100 2017 Case Study Report , highlighting the U.S. cities which are committing to a 100% Renewable Energy target.   Disappointingly, on December 4, Bloomberg News reported that the Trump administration has terminated the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, an interagency group created under President Obama to help municipalities protect their residents against extreme weather and natural disasters.

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCIn November, the City of Vancouver updated its Renewable City Strategy,  setting an interim 55% renewable energy target for 2030, which covers electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. For a discussion of Vancouver’s progress, see “Can Vancouver achieve 100% renewable energy?” in The Vancouver Sun (Nov. 5).

Net-Zero and Net-Positive Green Building: Vancouver’s New Policy, and a Pilot Project in Waterloo, Ontario

green building and bike VancouverOn May 1, the Green Building  Policy for Rezoning  took effect in the city of Vancouver, mandating that new commercial and multi-unit residential buildings  be built to standards modeled after the international Passive House standards, with airtight design, exceptional insulation, and good ventilation.  The Policy, originally approved in November 2016, is part of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan and its Zero Emissions Building Plan .  Matt Horne, the city’s Climate Policy Manager, writes in an OpEd in the Vancouver Sun  that the new rules will result in buildings which emit half as much carbon pollution, with slightly lower construction and operating costs.  Vancouver’s new rezoning policy  is in line with the province-wide standard for energy efficiency in new construction, the B.C. Energy Step Code , which came into force in April, 2017 in an effort to upgrade municipal building codes across the province.

Pembina Vancouver green-buildings-jobs-2017The Pembina Institute praises Vancouver’s new Rezoning policy and its benefits for workers in “Vancouver’s green buildings policy is good news for homeowners and renters” : “Constructing new energy-efficient homes and offices will be a boon to Vancouver’s green building sector. In B.C., the sector already employs over 23,000 people, and the industry is ready to respond to increased demand. New trades training is being offered by such institutions as the British Columbia Institute of Technology, which recently launched a new hands-on High-Performance Building Lab. Passive House Canada now trains hundreds of people a year, including designers, builders, and government staff. Energy-efficient buildings are one of B.C.’s biggest opportunities for real and lasting job creation.”   A February  article in the Globe and Mail, “The Economic Case for Retrofitting Buildings” echos this “ready to work” idea in the context of retrofitting: “we have the know-how and technology to be a key player in meeting a steep challenge. Building efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit, it’s the fruit that’s ripened and ready to fall into our lap.”

Evolv1 is a net positive building project in Waterloo Ontario, being described as a “game-changer”,“groundbreaking”, and “iconic”.    Evolv1  will generate more energy than it needs for its own operation from 1.5 acres of solar panels on the roof and carport, allowing it to power the building’s 14 electric vehicle charging stations  and sell any remaining excess  to the provincial electricity grid.  The building is also aiming for LEED Platinum certification through the use of triple-glazed glass, very high levels of insulation,  digitally-controlled LED lighting with occupancy and light level sensors, natural light, a three-storey green wall to improve air quality, and a geo-exchange system that extracts heat from the ground for winter heating and returns excess heat to the ground in the summer. Finally, the building will have direct access to the city’s light rail transit system to reduce the environmental impact of commuters.  Completion is scheduled for 2018. The project is being built by  Cora Group  construction, in partnership with Sustainable Waterloo Region and the University of Waterloo, as well as  anchor tenant, consultants  EY Canada.  The  Cora Group website provides illustrations.

Evolv1 was highlighted in the Waterloo Region Record in “An office building so green it actually produces energy”  (Feb. 17),  and in the May issue of  the Natural Resources Canada Newsletter, Heads-Up.  Sustainable Waterloo released its own press releases about the project: “Raising the Standard” , and a description of the vision for the project.

B.C. Cleantech start-up companies show dramatic growth and a confident future

BC cleantech coverIn mid-March, the B.C. Cleantech CEO Alliance released British Columbia Cleantech: Status Report 2016 , the result of a survey conducted by consultants KPMG in Fall 2016.   The new Status Report  shows “dramatic growth” since the previous report in 2011, supporting the Alliance branding of B.C. cleantech as “the next pillar of the Canadian economy”.

Between 2011 and 2016,  “the number of Cleantech companies is up 35% to 273, the number of BC-based employees is up 20% to 8,560, average wages have increased by 24% to $84,000 and the amount of equity raised is also up 25% to $6 billion.” The sector employs highly trained workers, such as engineers, designers, and sales and marketing professionals, resulting in that high average salary. 91% of companies are located in the Greater Vancouver area.

The survey respondents were only those early-stage companies whose primary purpose is developing new technologies – respondents were distributed as follows:  20%  energy generation; 16%   transportation; 12 % Building efficiency; 12% Resource recovery and waste management; 11% industrial efficiency; 11% water and waste water; 7% transmission and storage; 4% sustainable agriculture,  and a miscellaneous 7% remainder. Given the early stage of these companies, the key focus in the survey was on the sources of finance and the business climate for entrepreneurs. Results show that there is a heavy reliance on federal and provincial government incentive programs – for example, 75% of respondent companies had applied to the Scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) program and over half had applied to the federal Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

Despite strong Strategy, Vancouver needs fuel-switching policies to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals for 2050


English Bay, Vancouver B.C.  Creative Commons License, originally posted to Flickkr by JamesZ_Flickr

Vancouver is a green policy leader amongst Canadian municipalities, but on March 14, a new report from researchers at Simon Fraser University Energy and Materials Research Group  asks  Can Cities Really Make a Difference? Case Study of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy  .  The report focuses on the building and transportation policies of the Renewable City Strategy , using CIMS, a hybrid energy-economy model which incorporates elements of consumer choice.  Applauding Vancouver  for its leadership to date, the authors conclude that current policies are likely to achieve only a 30 percent reduction on projected 2050 emissions, and fail to meet the Strategy’s target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions  on 2007 levels.

The report calls for stronger, politically-challenging “fuel-switching” for buildings and vehicles as the necessary next stage in emissions reduction.  Amongst the specific actions suggested:  No fossil fuel heating installations after 2030 for all new build residential buildings – instead, electric-powered heat pumps, solar hot water, electric thermal heat, or other zero emissions equipment.  For vehicles, a gradual reduction of parking allocations for gasoline or diesel, starting  in 2025, with  no spaces  remaining on city land for conventional cars by 2040 .  Businesses would have to demonstrate exclusive use of renewably-powered fleet vehicles to qualify for a  business license after 2030.   Read the press release from Simon Fraser   for an excellent summary; also the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, one of the sponsors of the research  here .    As for  the Globe and Mail summary  , report co-author Marc Jaccard has tweeted that it “misses my main point”, that municipal government needs the support of other government levels.