Vancouver planned to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. It probably isn't.

The City of Vancouver set the lofty goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020. Now that the year is here, one city staffer says there's no way of measuring if that goal was achieved.

In 2011, then mayor Gregor Robertson implemented the Greenest City Action Plan with the aim of reducing the city's contributions to climate change. It outlined measurable targets like reducing waste, producing food locally and cutting down on car trips.

Nine years later, Brad Badelt, assistant director of sustainability for the city, said Vancouver did not meet all its targets and that being the greenest city was "really an aspirational goal."

One aspiration was to reduce carbon emissions in the city by 33 per cent below 2007 levels. According to Badelt, this did not happen.

"We've seen them drop by about 12 per cent to date," said Badelt on The Early Edition Friday. "We had success, but it certainly needs to ramp up dramatically and that's partly why we declared a climate emergency last year."

The good

Badelt said the city has reduced people's dependency on cars. He said Vancouver is a leading North American city for the number of people walking, biking and using public transit and said the coming Broadway subway line will further help.

And in terms of green space and wildlife, Badelt said Vancouver consistently ranks among the top environmental cities in the world and has increased its number of community gardens in recent years.

Badelt said the city is also doing well at constructing low-emission buildings, noting the average emission for a new building is about half what it was a decade ago.

"We're on track by 2025 to have essentially zero emissions new buildings in the city," said Badelt.

Peter Scobie/CBC

The bad 

The city fell short of the target it set to reduce waste by 50 per cent this year. Badelt said waste reduction was actually closer to 30 per cent.

"We're into the more difficult stuff now: single use items and other waste streams that are difficult to divert," he said.

In November 2019, city council approved a ban on single-use straws starting in April 2020 and plastic bags starting in January 2021 to help address this problem.

According to the city's website, Vancouver did not meet local food asset goals it set for 2020.

The plan was to increase local food assets, including initiatives like backyard chickens, community gardens and farmer's markets, by 50 per cent above 2010 levels by 2020.

The number of food assets rose annually between 2010 and 2017, but then began to decline for the first time in 2018, leaving that goal unmet as well.


The future

Badelt said there are some "big lifts ahead" for the city when it comes to climate action.

"The numbers show we need to literally quadruple the pace of reduction for greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 so that's a huge task for us," he said.

When city council declared a climate emergency in January 2019, it asked staff for recommendations on how to ramp up climate action. 

In April, city staff presented a report with over 50 recommendations to help make Vancouver carbon neutral and align with global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 C.

The city has given itself until 2050 to hit those targets.