Skip to main content

A report from SFU says Vancouver will need to bring in dramatic measures to get residents and businesses off fossil fuels in order to achieve 100-per-cent-renewable energy by 2050.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

If Vancouver really wants to achieve its goal to move to 100-per-cent-renewable energy by 2050, it will need to bring in dramatic measures to get residents and businesses off fossil fuels to power their vehicles and heat their buildings, according to new report.

Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard, the co-author of the report analyzing Vancouver's climate-change efforts, said the city currently focuses on making buildings more energy-efficient and encouraging alternative modes of transportation. One aspect of that is largely restricting natural gas in new buildings after 2030.

Instead, he said the city will need to consider measures such as reducing the amount of parking available for gas-burning vehicles, requiring businesses with city licences to use electric- or biofuel-powered vehicles and pushing stronger measures to get owners of older buildings to eliminate natural-gas heating.

"It's going to be difficult," said Dr. Jaccard, acknowledging that Vancouver is already experiencing considerable blowback over recent policies it has put in place as part of its "renewable city strategy."

The report says for Vancouver to reach its stated goals, it would require "a complete switch away from gasoline and diesel in transportation and natural gas in buildings."

The report acknowledges those more stringent measures are likely to be hotly debated. But it recommends that the city allow people to have options, rather than dictating particular technologies to achieve the goal, to make the changes more palatable.

For example, the report says that moving to district-energy systems, local systems for generating electricity within a neighbourhood, will do very little to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

It recommends that "instead of prescribing and enforcing a specific action, such as forcing all apartment buildings to connect to a district energy system or requiring all single family homes to install a heat pump, the City could focus on increasingly stringent regulations that phase out fossil fuel using technologies without prescribing the specific type of technology and fuel that must replace them."

Vancouver developed a "renewable city strategy" in 2015 that aims for 100 per cent of the energy used in the city to come from renewable sources by 2050 and that, by the same year, the city's greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced to 80 per cent of 2007 levels.

Last year, it also introduced policy requiring that new buildings be "net zero emissions" by 2030.

At the moment, Vancouver homeowners, businesses and drivers get 30 per cent of their energy from renewable sources. The other 70 per cent of the energy used, either to heat buildings and water, or to power vehicles, comes from fossil fuels such as natural gas, gas and diesel.

"Under the [current] policies, natural gas use decreases only slightly," says the report. "This is because a relatively large proportion (over half) of the existing, non-zero-emissions building stock still exists in 2050."

The report authors calculate that emissions will only be reduced by about one-third by 2050 unless either senior governments impose new rules or Vancouver takes more radical action.

Vancouver's climate-policy manager said it's true that the current policies won't get the city to its goals by 2050, although he said that the city's push for density and alternative transportation options will make a significant difference to how much less energy is consumed by city residents and workers for transportation.

But the city will bring in new measures over the years, as new options and partnerships become available, Matt Horne said.

"Any of the strategies we bring in have to be founded on good choice and good affordability," he said. "We're pushing for a direction where what we do feels reasonable."

When it comes to the ideas suggested in Dr. Jaccard's report, he said, "you're not going to see policies like that next year."

Dr. Jaccard says Vancouver is still at the forefront of cities trying to make a real difference on climate change. Most city politicians claiming that they are going to tackle climate change and bring their greenhouse-gas emissions down to zero are just spewing hype, he said.