Thursday, July 17, 2008

Greater Van - Adapting to Climate Change

Yesterday was the Future of the Region Sustainability Dialogue on "Adapting to Climate Change" put together by Metro Vancouver.

These dialogues have been put together in an attempt to bring professionals, government and the general public together to ask questions and discuss matters relating to sustainability.

Yesterday's symposium hosted four speakers talking on climate change and the implications for the greater Vancouver area and sought to determine how the region can change to deal with the changes, challenges and opportunities.

Matt Horne is the Acting Director of BC Energy Solutions with the Pembina Institute. His short presentation discussed how to adapt to the changing economy that will inevitably come with climate change. He stressed a need for strong mitigation on carbon. He also discussed how the challenges of climate change stretched across culture, income and geography. Each group within the community will have to deal with challenges that arise. He cited low income families who already have 20% of their income going towards energy costs, the transport industry and the island communities which rely on easy transport for their livelihoods. All groups must be considered to have access to a solution.

Jim Vanderwal is the Program Manager for the Climate Change Program with the Fraser Basin Council. He began his talk with 2 assumptions:
1 - Adaptation isn't possible without serious cuts in emissions.
2 - Adaptation needs to happen regardless.
He discussed how there does exist a concern surrounding climate change in the community, but just because people understand what is happening, doesn't mean they necessarily act and it is role of the community to empower people to act. One example he cited was the trucking industry which has difficulty adapting because a) they do not know where they currently stand in terms of emissions, and once that is determined b) they are confronted with many 'solutions', not all of which will work, but are unaware of which ones will.

Jim discussed recommendations, the first three which can be immediately dealt with:
1 - Leading by example, measure carbon footprints for all new developments and infrastructure;
2 - Focus on water consumption and demand as equally as we do energy consumption;
3 - Local governments have new incentive towards sustainable development, so they should use it; and
4 - Determine a plan for 2050, look at the future and focus on how we will get to these goals.

John Robinson is a Professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC. John discussed how finally the jurisdiction in Canada exists to change towards more sustainable living, but the scale needed to change has yet to be understood. He stressed using adaptation and mitigation together to create change, but doing so intelligently. Simply adding adaptation and mitigation to undeveloped packages is a recipe for failure. It is important to think about broad term sustainability rather than just climate policy. Large collective decisions will determine the framework, while culture and lifestyle choices will determine the behavior of those in the community.

Dale Littlejohn is the Strategy and Outreach Manager at the Community Energy Association. John discussed how the adaptation response depends on what we're adapting to. If we don't get a handle of mitigation, it will be much more difficult to adapt. He talked about the need to expand ideas around district energy and distributed energy, for example solar power, and create a partnership with local companies and the community. Climate change needs to move beyond actions by the individual and look at what the entire community can do to adapt to the situation.

The speakers were followed by about an hour worth of questions and discussion surrounding climate change. One of the interesting points I thought came from John Robinson when discussing green buildings and technology. He pointed out that the barriers to change are not economic or technological, but institutional. Therefore, creating change requires changing the way the institution thinks about how things are done.

Overall I found they symposium to be quite interesting and am looking forward to how it all comes together. There are four of these forums around greater Vancouver leading up to the Sustainability Summit on October 7. One can see highlights from the forum and a written summary on the Metro Vancouver Website.

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