Day 2: Team Vancouver at COP21

Day 2: Team Vancouver at COP21

By Shauna Sylvester

December 05, 2015

Director of the SFU Centre for Dialogue Shauna Sylvester is on the ground at COP21 in Paris and will be regularily reporting on the UN climate talks. We will be posting her blog articles on Carbon Talks' website, see the entire series here.


Today I took the train and shuttle bus to Le Bourget, the site of the Paris COP21 conference. There are three zones that make up the site: The blue zone is the area where the negotiations are being held and only accessible with UN accreditation; it is a giant tent like structure that is set up like a fortress with serious police patrols at every access point. The red zone is the “Gallerie” where businesses gather to showcase their wares and host workshops. And finally, the green zone, which is open to the public and is the site of the cities pavilion and many other meeting areas where non-accredited NGOs and others meet.

If there was an award for the delegation that made the best use of this global gathering place, it might go to the City of Vancouver. Today, the City of Vancouver’s Economic Commission hosted two sessions – the first was held in partnership with the City of Copenhagen in the red zone and featured green businesses in a kind of rapid fire storytelling session. The second session was hosted in the cities pavilion in the green zone. Here, the team presented data that demonstrates how the Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan sparked economic growth in recent years.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Raymond Louie (who also serves as the President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities) seem to be everywhere – appearing on panels, opening workshops, on stage at rock concerts, and often huddled in conversation with other delegates in makeshift cafes.

“Team Vancouver” isn’t just confined to elected officials. The Vancouver Economic Commission and the City of Vancouver convened dozens of business leaders like Ross Beaty and Jamie Hussein, UBC students like Jude Crasta, SFU Centre for Dialogue Fellows Michael Small and Merran Smith, and environmental groups like David Suzuki Foundation in advance of COP21 to coordinate and amplify the city’s message of green development. It was a network-based approach that has had a viral impact at COP 21 and has enabled Vancouver to punch above its weight. It has also garnered for Vancouver more media and public attention than it may otherwise deserve, given its size and economic influence.

Perhaps the most important evidence of Vancouver’s influence came last night when 1000 mayors released their agreement to address climate change.  As one of the first cities in the world to lay out its strategy to move to 100% renewable energy, Vancouver was instrumental in ensuring that the target of 100% renewable energy appeared in the mayors’ statement. While some might dismiss this as merely an aspirational statement, it does demonstrate how quickly Vancouver and other cities have been able to advance the idea of transitioning to 100% renewable energy.

If I sound like a disciple – I am. Just reading the reference to 100% renewable energy made my heart jump. It was only seventeen months ago that I and my colleagues from Carbon Talks at the SFU Centre for Dialogue were interviewing 150 thought leaders around the world and testing the idea of creating an initiative to support cities to adopt a 100% renewable energy target. I can’t tell you how many people suggested that we focus our efforts at a different level of government since most cities had limited influence over the supply of energy. Despite the obstacles, we pursued the idea, working with the World Future Council, colleagues in Europe, and City of Vancouver staff.  With the support of two Vancouver business leaders, Rudy North and Ross Beaty, we launched Renewable Cities and hosted the first Global Learning Forum in Vancouver in May 2015. 

In less than two years, the Renewable Cities movement has grown exponentially. If anyone in May would have suggested that 1000 mayors from around the world would endorse the idea of 100% Renewable Energy at COP21, I would not have believed them. But now SFU’s Renewable Cities team have cause for celebration. The idea that seemed absurd a year ago is now becoming mainstream - now it is time to take it to the next stage and move from aspirational statements to action.

Perhaps, what I like most about what Vancouver is doing at COP 21 is that in addition to flying the flag, they are sharing their action plans, challenges, and lessons learned. Vancouver recognizes the challenges of transitioning to 100% renewable energy and is seeking support as they move to action. In so doing, they are demonstrating how to build a global movement for change. Given the reticence of many nation states to take action, their civic approach is refreshing.    

See the rest of Shauna Sylvester's COP21 blog post series here.

(Icon photo courtesy of pwkrueger/Flickr)

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