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Cities can lead on climate change to build a more resilient future

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Mayor Gregor Robertson. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver

By Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver, Canada


Around the world, cities are taking the lead on addressing the challenge of climate change. While senior governments stall, urban leaders are responding to the urgent need to make our cities more resilient as climate change impacts intensify. 
 
In Vancouver, we are aggressively pursuing our goal to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. It's a bold goal, but in working toward it, we are protecting our environment and growing our economy. The successful cities of the future will be those making the investments and changes necessary to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Climate change poses a serious risk to global economic and social stability, and resilient cities will prove to be attractive draws for people and capital. 
 
With decisive leadership, the everyday decisions of city governments can prepare our communities for climate change. By considering climate change when we evaluate new development or infrastructure proposals, cities can save lives, create jobs, and improve our streets and neighbourhoods.
 
A clear price on carbon enables governments, businesses, non-profits and citizens to make smarter decisions that will have real impact. Innovative businesses aren't waiting for governments to act; many are already internally pricing greenhouse gas emissions to gain a competitive edge. The forward-thinking businesses and regions that price carbon today will have more flexibility and capacity to respond to the uncertain conditions tomorrow.

In Vancouver, we are fortunate that our Provincial Government instituted North America's first carbon tax. In just six years, it has proved to be a success in moving our province towards a greener future. At the same time, our economy is thriving, and in Vancouver, it has spurred rapid job growth in a cleaner, greener economy. Renewable energy and clean tech companies are choosing to invest in Vancouver precisely because we are ahead of the curve with a carbon tax.

We're capitalizing on this opportunity by supporting low-carbon projects in our city. A new neighbourhood renewable energy strategy will dramatically cut carbon pollution and make our local energy supply more resilient. Vancouver now has the greenest building code in North America, driving bolder standards to conserve energy and reduce water use and waste. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels and dramatically reduce consumption, so that our ecological footprint is sustainable. 

The benefits are clear with a carbon tax and policy decisions that make climate action a priority. Greenhouse gas emissions are dropping across the province. In Vancouver, we have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in North America. Our city has seen a massive surge in green jobs, which are growing at four times the national rate.

By acting now, our investments are more cost-effective and allow citizens to enjoy the many benefits of climate-smart homes, jobs, and infrastructure. If we neglect these opportunities to take action today, we risk more urgent and expensive decisions in the future.

To meet the challenge of climate change head on, we need to rapidly scale up this success. While British Columbia's carbon tax has been successful, a loophole is provided to fossil fuel exports – a concession to the pushback from powerful coal, oil, and gas interests. Countries and businesses are mobilizing for a post-carbon economy, yet high-carbon infrastructure like fossil fuel pipelines and thermal coal ports are proposed at every turn. These short-sighted decisions make our transition more costly, wasting capital urgently needed for green transportation and energy infrastructure, energy efficiency retrofits, and other projects with strong support from local leaders.
 
The cost of inaction escalates every day. By building on the lessons from Vancouver and elsewhere, cities can position themselves to thrive in the post-carbon global economy.

Photo courtesy of the City of Vancouver

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