Vancouver’s Shrinking Footprint

After peaking in 2000, Vancouver’s community GHG emissions have been reduced to 1990 levels. They are on track to reach target of a further 6 per cent reduction by 2012 or sooner. Vancouver has the lowest per capita GHG emissions of any major city in North America. This has been achieved at the same time that Vancouver has undergone significant growth: 27 per cent increase in population and 18 per cent increase in jobs.


The City of Vancouver (COV) started taking initiative in the late 1990’s by joining the partners for Climate Protection – led by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. They took climate action in 2003 when Council directed staff to develop a strategy on how the City would mitigate climate change.

In response staff recommended the multijurisdictional Cool Vancouver Taskforce. The group was made up of a wide range of stakeholder groups in Vancouver and the region including; educators, builders, environmentalists, corporate leaders and government.

Primary Objectives and Targets

Based on recommendations of the Cool Vancouver Taskforce the City created the Corporate Climate Change Action Plan to address emissions from municipal operations), and the Community Climate Change Action Plan for community-wide emissions. Each plan had separate targets for the City's own operations emissions and community wide emissions. The targets were:

  • 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010 for operations
  • 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 community-wide

The operations target was made more aggressive recognizing that the City’s responsibility goes beyond just providing services -- it must also set an example and demonstrate leadership to the community and build capacity internally. 


The two climate action plans became the guiding documents for the City’s work on climate change.  In addition, five staff positions within the Sustainability Group were approved as part of the plan. The plans and the additional capacity became building blocks for Vancouver’s climate leadership. 

Corporate Plan Overview:

  • Introduction and Background to Climate Change
  • Corporate Emissions Inventory
  • Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Measures and Actions in Civic Facilities, the Corporate Fleet, Street/Park Lighting and Traffic Control Signals, Corporate Waste Reduction and Landfill Operations, Corporate Demand Side Management
  • Targeted Impacts of Emission Reductions Measures
  • Recommendations for Next Steps

Community Plan Overview:

  • Introduction and Background to Climate Change 
  • Community Engagement
  • Smart Growth
  • Residential Buildings
  • Commercial and Institutional
  • Community Energy Systems
  • Industry
  • Transportation Alternatives
  • Vehicle and Fuel Efficiencies
  • Solid Waste and landfill
  • Implementation

Policy Framework

Both plans were approved and mandated by Council (Corporate in 2003, Community in 2005), accepting all the recommendations of the Taskforce.

Council also adopted the policies to empower staff to implement the plans and engage the community in undertaking energy conservation behaviours, particularly in buildings and transportation systems.


The City developed 1990 and 2000 greenhouse gas inventories for both community and corporate emissions as well as targets reduction.  The inventories were developed under the Partners for Climate Protection Program (PCP), a program of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The guideline used was the “International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI)/ Cities for Climate Protection (CCP)/ Guidelines for Reporting” (Draft 3.0, April 1999).  

Every two years the Climate Protection group updates the corporate and community inventories with data from both internal departments and external sources. 

A 2008 inventory followed ICLEI’s newer International Local Government GHG Emissions Analysis Protocol (release version 1) which applies to both municipal operations and the community. Central reporting is done by the COV Sustainability Group. The City has used existing staff to review data, with no outside consultants.

In future years the City’s GHG Accounting protocol(s) will follow those established under the BC Climate Action Charter. 


An important first step for implementation was to work across City departments, integrating the climate change goals into all City initiatives.

Successes to date in reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions have been a result of the following:

    * Landfill gas recovery and utilization for energy (the single biggest initiative)
    * Limited growth in light duty vehicle emissions (about half of the regional norm). Attributing factors are increases in cycling, walking and transit mode-share and increasing density downtown.
    * Stable emissions from buildings. Attributing factors are a trend towards more efficient new buildings and retrofits to existing buildings.

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions are the result of a number of factors, not only City-lead actions. Demand side management initiatives by utilities and external factors such as fuel prices are important contributors.

The following City plans and policies that contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions:

The biggest expense for Vancouver’s climate protection program is the staff time and resources. They have been able to leverage some outside funding through grants including the: FCM green municipal fund.


The drop in emissions is concurrent with a 27 per cent population increase since 1990 and an 18 per cent growth in employment since 1991. “This is evidence against the conventional thinking that you can’t reduce emissions with a growing population and economy.” Says Sean Pander, Climate Protection Program Manager.

The city has also reduced emissions from municipal operations to 33 per cent below 1990 levels.In recognition of their leadership towards climate protection, Vancouver was been invited as one of the four original member cities of the UN's Climate Neutral Network.


The group found that having a multi-stakeholder approach to engagement was helpful. There was significant existing capacity in local environmental non-governmental organisations and environmental educators. The host of existing resources and partners allowed the City to be able to leverage what other institutions were doing as there were many parties already working towards similar goals of engaging residents on climate change.

However, the challenge of working with so many partners was reconciling the variety of short-term goals related to resident actions which each group wanted to achieve. Although the intents were similar, there was mixed messaging competing for the public’s attention. 


When discussing breakthroughs and barriers with Community Outreach Coordinator Amy Fournier, she says that the biggest constraint is that local governments have limited control over locally produced GHG emissions.

“We can’t mandate individual home owners to reduce energy, we can try to influence them but for the most part we have to rely on people’s voluntary actions.” She found that community-based social marketing was helpful.

Fournier recommends using carefully targeted programs to address people’s specific barriers instead of a generalist approach. In retrospect Fournier thinks it could have been useful to have the Cool Vancouver Taskforce become an ongoing committee and tasking the members with helping to implement their recommendations.

In addition, they would have focused more on internal staff engagement as different staff groups ultimately need to implement the plan. They have found that the very nature of implementing long-term sustainability plans can be challenging because it can take such a long time to see results.

For example, explains Fournier, “We are building better buildings now, but we won’t see significant reductions for quite some time. While important to take time in the planning stages they recommend that other local governments don’t over invest resources and take long periods of time developing detailed inventories.

An initial inventory is sufficient to enable momentum building and informed action. The focus should be on understanding the sources of emissions and to develop programs and policies to target the largest sources, focusing resources where the biggest reductions can be made. 

In Vancouver’s experience deep analysis and modeling does not change the actions planned and can erode momentum and support.

Next Steps

The climate actions the City of Vancouver is taking now will help build on the work that still needs to be done to meet more aggressive, longer-term targets, which include:

 • 2012 - Carbon neutral operations

• 2012 - Reduce community emissions by 6% (on track to achieving)

• 2020 - Reduce community emissions by 33% 

• 2020 - All new buildings are carbon neutral 

• 2050 - Reduce community emissions by 80%

To achieve these targets, the City is working with other levels of government and utilities on large scale renewable energy projects, mandating energy performance in existing buildings and financing tools for retrofits as well as enabling electric vehicles and increasing cycling and walking. 

Amy Fournier, Community Outreach Coordinator, 604-871-6814
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