Accelerating climate action regionally

/

We are not on track to achieve our regional greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goal.

The climate emergency is getting very real. We are now experiencing weather disasters that are growing increasingly common due to climate change. It’s in the news every day, worldwide, and BC is not immune. The heat dome killed 24 people in this region, and over 700 across BC.  Combined with the floods that covered farms and washed away highways, weather-related damage in 2021 alone was in the tens of billions of dollars.

The CRD declared a climate emergency in 2019 and we are not on track to achieve our greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goal.

The only times emissions have actually declined were recessions – 2008 (financial sector collapse) and 2020 (COVID). In all other periods, emissions stayed the same, or increased. 

So on Wednesday, I brought a motion at the Capital Regional District Board directing staff to report on additional steps the CRD can take to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

I’m pleased that the motion was supported by the board; it passed unanimously. The text of the motion is reproduced below.

What are staff going to suggest when they report back?

Staff are very smart and I expect they will be working hard to identify areas where there are large emission reductions possible, and the potential for creative, new approaches.

The CRD currently has a limited toolbox (regulatory authorities) that it works with, as do all levels of government in Canada. The federal and provincial governments have far more tools, and even cities have more. The motion acknowledges this, and suggests that we consider what additional tools the Region might be able to acquire – beyond the Region’s normal practice of using its existing tools, supporting member municipalities, leading, coordinating and cajoling.

Some starter ideas

I’ll be interested to see what staff come up with. Here are a few areas that spring to mind:

  1. Accelerating development of regional rapid transit. Transportation represents almost half of our regional GHG emissions. Regional rapid transit has been planned for a long time, and progress has been achingly slow. However, just in recent weeks I’ve seen Hon. Rob Fleming,  Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, *twice* publicly suggest that rapid transit, including light rail, is needed in this region and that it might not be far off. The CRD is currently pursuing development of a Regional Transportation Service, and eventually perhaps a more powerful Regional Transportation Authority that could implement regional rapid transit. I’m agnostic on whether this proposed Service / Authority is the best way to go. Will it help? Or will it be years of spinning our wheels and arguing over jurisdiction when what we really need to do is actually get building the transit infrastructure? Minister Fleming stated earlier this week that he likes projects, not more process. So do I. Perhaps the CRD can re-ignite and accelerate the regional rapid transit project, working with BC Transit, the Transit Commission, the Ministry, and municipal governments – at the same time that it explores the Service/Authority idea.
  2. Extending free transit passes to include teens. In 2021, Ministers Fleming and Heyman announced free transit passes for kids up to 12. This program helps build transit ridership by creating the next generation of transit riders. The City of Victoria goes beyond the provincial program, and provides free passes for teens up to 18. The aim is to help lock in the habit of transit ridership, even through those key years when teens (some of them) learn to drive.  I’m hoping that the provincial government’s Clean Transportation Action Plan – to be announced soon – will include an extended free transit pass for teens. If it doesn’t, then perhaps the CRD can make this happen regionally, at least on an interim basis until the province rolls it out for all of BC.
  3. Protected bike-and-roll route connections. The CRD operates our regional trail system – the popular Galloping Goose Trail, Lochside Trail, and E&N Trail. Municipal governments are building their own protected bike-and-roll networks, but the connections between municipal systems need attention. That’s why I moved a motion at City Council that will accelerate Victoria’s construction of its Shelbourne route – in order to be ready to connect with the Saanich portion of Shelbourne, which is under construction right now. Victoria will also need to connect to the Saanich portion of the Cook Street route, and with Esquimalt’s system along Esquimalt Road. Victoria has built protected routes to Oak Bay’s border (Richardson-McNeil, and Fort), and Oak Bay has considered a route along Oak Bay Ave. Perhaps the CRD can obtain requisition authority to enable it to absorb some of the costs of accelerating planning and construction of inter-municipal connections. 
  4. Zero-carbon new buildings. Buildings are the other large source of GHG emissions in the region, due to fossil fuel combustion for heating – which can be eliminated and replaced with clean, low/zero-emissions electricity. CRD staff worked with municipal staff to prepare for the introduction of the Zero Carbon Step Code, which in 2030 will require all new buildings in BC to be low or zero GHG.  I was pleased to move a motion in Victoria Council to adopt the Zero Carbon Step Code (possibly the first municipality in BC?) and accelerate our timing beyond the regional schedule. Saanich quickly followed suit with the same quicker schedule as Victoria, and some other municipalities in the region also accelerated theirs – including Esquimalt, Colwood, View Royal, Central Saanich, and the CRD’s Electoral Areas (areas outside of municipalities).  Hopefully BC will accelerate the 2030 date, at least for southern, urban areas of BC, where most of the population lives. In the meantime, perhaps the CRD can assist the other municipalities in the region to accelerate their adoption (providing bylaw and report drafting assistance, staff capacity), or could even work to obtain legal authority from municipal partners in order to make it politically easier for them.

What will staff focus on?

I don’t know what CRD staff will come up with. The above ideas are merely intended to help spark creativity.

Because the goal is reduced emissions, as opposed to activities or programs (“doing things”), staff will need to focus on the larger sources of emissions. Fossil fuels burned for transportation and buildings create about 90% of emissions in this region. So transportation and buildings need to be front and center in whatever the staff suggest. Waste is a distant third place, at under 10% of regional emissions – and we are already taking steps to prevent GHG-producing organic materials from entering our Hartland landfill. 

So I expect staff will be mainly focussing on emissions from transportation and buildings, rather than smaller sources. 

The CRD itself, through its own operations, only contributes about 1% of regional emissions. We are already working to reduce that through a number of initiatives, but even if we get to zero corporate emissions, it’s small potatoes. Reducing the CRD’s corporate emissions won’t get us visible progress toward our regional GHG goal. It’s just math. 

So I expect staff will focus on community-wide emissions, and not spend much time on corporate emissions.

The bottom line

As the IPCC has stated, we need rapid and deep reductions in GHG emissions, starting immediately. 

We have not been doing that.

The ongoing climate emergency is not going to get better. It’s going to get worse – until after global emissions are way, way down. And all jurisdictions have to do their part. 

The bottom line is that we need to move faster. Much faster. Incrementalism isn’t going to cut it.

So again, I’m really looking forward to what staff come up with. If you have any ideas, please send them to me: dthompson@crd.bc.ca.

CRD motion passed on May 8, 2024

  1. That the level of effort on Board Priorities be adjusted as directed by the Committee of the Whole; and
  2. That staff, through the service and financial planning processes, provide recommendations in funding, timing and service levels for 2025 in accordance with the amended direction.

b) Direct staff to report back on what more the CRD can do to achieve the stated goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, including but not limited to scaling up efforts using existing tools, and working with other levels of government to obtain additional tools.