Gloede, Katherine

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has an ambitious vision—become the world’s greenest city by 2020. For a city that certainly isn’t building from scratch, the goal sounds unattainable. How does a well-established city with a population around 600,000 convert so quickly to renewables and a green economy? By starting to transition to a green city long before almost everyone else did.

Despite a 40% increase in population in Vancouver’s city center between 1996 and 2011, the city experienced a 25% decrease in vehicle journeys. The city also saw increases in public transportation use and bikability. This transportation movement traces back to the 1970’s, when Vancouver shut down the idea of putting a highway that would make driving into the city’s center easy. There are plans to continue a transition to heightened walkability. Additional advancements planned for greener communities include ensuring there is green space within a five minute walk of every resident and increasing local food production.

Using a 2010 baseline of 16,700, Vancouver plans to double the number of green jobs by 2020. Some of these jobs will likely come from a building industry move to build only carbon-neutral. More jobs will likely come from a move away from fossil fuels. The city plans to be 100% powered by renewables, which might take until 2040 pending national support, but will certainly put Vancouver at the top of the list of greenest cities.

A conference attended by 45 other countries and the United Nations Environment Programme kicked off this week in Vancouver to help local governments meets goals in emissions reduction.

Read more about Vancouver’s plan to be the world’s greenest city on EcoWatch.