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Mayors Voices: Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia

As Mayor of Vancouver, I’m very excited that Vancouver is joining the c40 – the second city in Canada (after Toronto) to do so. In an age of rising sea levels and extreme weather, there’s never been a more important time for cities across the globe to step up and lead on fighting climate change.

Vancouver is known for its mountains, rainforests and beaches, which we proudly showcased as the host city of the 2010 Winter Olympics. But we’ve been working hard to be the Green Capital, taking our green credibility to the next level and focusing our economic development on the green economy.

We are blessed with a history of green leadership and also have geographic advantages, like mild weather and a limited land base that’s forced us to build our city up, not out. But the dire consequences of climate change require all of us to take major steps to dramatically reduce carbon pollution and adapt to the impacts that are already upon us.

Cities are uniquely poised to take action – we are the most entrepreneurial level of government. We are closest to our citizens, and our decisions have the most direct impact on them – from how we manage our waste and deliver our drinking water to how we invest in transportation and plan our neighbourhoods. As a result, we are best suited to be nimble and creative – albeit with far more limited powers and resources than our senior government partners.

Around the world we see cities setting an inspiring pace. While global climate change talks stall and world leaders ignore the urgency and impacts of climate chaos, cities are investing in renewable energy, launching ambitious clean transportation plans, and finding carbon efficiencies through building retrofits and waste reduction. In the process, we’re saving taxpayer dollars and demonstrating how we can collectively go green, reduce carbon pollution and grow our economies.

Vancouver, relative to other cities, is starting from a position of strength. We have the lowest carbon footprint per capita in North America. Forward-looking decisions from past governments planned our city for transit and walk-ability, invested in renewable energy, and protected watersheds and our local farmland to ensure our food security.

So in 2009 we set the bold goal to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. We’re making good progress to date, with a huge engagement of citizens, neighbourhoods and businesses to achieve our targets.

We moved quickly to prioritize advances with green buildings, clean transportation and renewable energy. 55% of our carbon pollution comes from our buildings. That’s why we’re moving aggressively to slash these emissions 20% by 2020, working with industry to adopt the greenest building code in North America and launch both home and condo building retrofit programs.

2012 saw the approval of our comprehensive Neighbourhood Energy Strategy, which will see low-carbon energy like geothermal, solar and sewage heat used locally to power neighbourhoods. We expect this will reduce our carbon pollution by 120,000 tonnes/year.

Our 2020 green transportation target is to see over 50% of all trips in Vancouver made on foot, bike, or by transit, and we’re currently at 44%. To accomplish this goal we’re investing heavily in safer cycling routes, pedestrian safety, and developing long-term plans for a subway through our Broadway corridor – currently the busiest bus route in North America.

Our local car share businesses are enjoying booming popularity, with the highest adoption rates in North America. For over 15 years now, Vancouver citizens have increasingly chosen greener, safer, more affordable transportation options when available – shifting away from fossil-fuelled cars.

The c40 network provides the shared learnings and resources that cities need to tackle climate change. No one city can do it alone, but our collective progress and commitment to leading on climate change strengthens our resolve to act.

Thanks to all of you for the political courage to take action – and your commitment to a bright future for all of our cities!