Early yesterday morning two speakers with similar jobs but in very different regions stepped up to the podium to share just how different their regions, separated only by the Salish Sea (nee Georgia Strait) are tackling climate change and all the other attendant challenges these growing regions face.
Metro Van’s air quality head, Roger Quan, led off, talking about how the then-GVRD had being “doing climate change before climate change was cool”, talking about air as “our common ground” and how their mandate to control various aspects of air quality — which they have done for over 15 years — directly led in to the sustainability initiatives that the region has embarked on since then. Roger explained that part of the challenge lies in how little of the region’s emissions the region actually has control over. The two biggest sources of pollution are under the mandate of local councils or other agencies, namely transportation (controlled by Translink and the local councils) and buildings (controlled by local councils), leaving Metro Vancouver to “work around the edges”, as it were. What they control is a great deal of the utilities in the region, and are thus looking at heat recovery for their sewers and hydro from the Capilano reservoir, for example. They also do lot of advocacy work, both to senior levels of government to ask them to speed up the process and to local businesses on how to become sustainable faster. With the organization of regional district itself, they also try and model sustainability, having set a “shadow” price on carbon of $25/tonne and are working on embedding a sustainability lens in all the work they do.
The CRD’s Climate Action Coordinator, Sarah Webb, then brought the perspective of the capital region. Unlike Metro Vancouver, the CRD lacks the large utilities under their control, so more of their work is focused on the advocacy side, adding that they need to push local councils to make some of the hard changes they have yet to do. Partly the CRD can do this by adding capacity, both with systems and with people, of which Sarah is one of them (the other side of her office is a half-time person, so she lacks people power). But what does Sarah see as critical to allowing the climate change goals to be met? Vision of the possible, management processes and other systems, people (and champions), money, and possibly most critically, time to “steer the ship’s course”, as she put it.
With the loss of the regional districts major planning powers in 1983 and the challenge that they are only slowly regrowing that capacity and regulatory ability, both Roger and Sarah pushed how the regional districts can bring people to the table and be good models of what needs to be done, especially for mildly-reluctant councillors and mayors. And while neither regional district has the power or people required to do job, they can leverage other divisions within their districts (such CRD Planning’s Pedestrian & Cycling Plan) or other organizations within the region (such as Translink in Vancouver). Hopefully it will be enough.