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Taking cleaner modes of transit, such as the Skytrain in Vancouver, are just one way people can push back against climate-change agnosticism in the world. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Taking cleaner modes of transit, such as the Skytrain in Vancouver, are just one way people can push back against climate-change agnosticism in the world. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Opinion

Environmental progress is possible despite Trump’s climate-change agenda Add to ...

Matt Horne is the City of Vancouver’s climate policy manager.

When U.S. President Donald Trump recently confirmed he was exiting the Paris climate-change agreement, one might have expected the collective response to be one of defeat. And while there’s no denying it’s a damaging decision, the actual response of determination, mobilization and resistance offers a silver lining. As we celebrate World Environment Day on Monday, with Canada as the host, the world needs to start leveraging that silver lining into progress.

U.S. states, cities and businesses firmly rebuked the President and promised to forge ahead without him. The EU and China issued a statement recommitting to the agreement. France, Germany and Italy let the United States know there would be no renegotiating. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated his deep disappointment and affirmed the country’s “unwavering commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth.”

These responses are all encouraging. They’re part economic in recognition of the immense opportunity that the transition to clean energy represents. They’re part environmental because of the threat that unchecked climate change is to the planet. And they’re part moral because of the wrongs we will inflict if we fail to act.

Turning these sentiments of defiance into real and sustained progress will be hard work. There is also an enormous opportunity for jurisdictions prepared to put in the hard work and be part of the solution. The City of Vancouver will be one of those jurisdictions.

Vancouver was the first city in North America to commit to eliminating fossil fuels and transition to 100-per-cent renewable energy before 2050. Our first steps have encouraged us to take more. Since 2007, carbon pollution is down 15 per cent, while GDP has increased by 28 per cent. The local green economy, which includes clean-tech companies and green building design and construction, has been growing at 6 per cent per year. And in 2015, Vancouver’s businesses and residents saved an estimated $121-million in energy costs, compared with what they would have paid in 2007.

We’re helping to usher in a new era of innovation with more energy-efficient buildings that have better air quality and are quieter for residents. The electric-vehicle charging network we’ve helped to build has allowed us to have among the highest concentrations of electric vehicles in Canada. More convenient and safer walking, cycling and transit have helped us achieve the milestone of half of the trips in the city coming from those modes.

We also know we can’t be successful without strong partnerships with the federal and provincial governments. As evidenced by the Prime Minister’s statement, that support is there federally. The continued implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change will be critical to our collective progress in Canada. New actions such as the clean-fuel standard and the zero-emission vehicle strategy will ensure that Canadians from coast to coast to coast can choose cleaner vehicles and fuels.

And here in B.C., it looks like there will be a strong provincial partner, too, as the results from the recent election continue to sort themselves out. In response to Mr. Trump’s backsliding, Andrew Weaver, the BC Green Party Leader, said “… the people of B.C. are ready to be leaders on climate change again.” If he’s successful in his intention to support an NDP minority government, the stars will be aligned to accelerate B.C.’s progress.

Working together across levels of government with other private- and public-sector partners, gives us the best chance to continue improving the quality, cost and availability of solutions. That’s a high bar and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. If we meet those expectations, that’s when people get excited about change.

Talk to the people living in super-efficient homes that they can heat with a hair dryer, and don’t have to worry about dust or the sounds of traffic moving by. Talk to the people that can walk or take the Skytrain to work instead of being stuck in traffic. Talk to the people making a living building green buildings or developing renewable-energy projects.

These are all solutions available today that we can continue to make better. If we’re successful, that’s when the thin silver lining around Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement turns into real progress and momentum.

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Trump's speech on U.S. withdrawing from Paris climate accord in 90 seconds (The Globe and Mail)

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