British Columbia as a Climate Change Innovation Laboratory



While many of us are pessimistic about the likelihood that a new global accord on climate change will emerge to replace the Kyoto Protocol (with large emitters like Canada and the US retreating from the development of  national programmes), we have many reasons to be optimistic about the potential for urban and regional approaches to succeed.

There is plenty of evidence that non-state actors - companies, NGOs and public institutions - are rushing in to fill the void left by the political impasse on climate change at the national level in many countries.

This multi-level and multi-stakeholder platform is more flexible, resilient and effective than stale international relations. A grand and ambitious climate policy experiment in British Columbia, Canada, over the last three years exemplifies how a small jurisdiction can both enact meaningful climate policy and demonstrate how a wide constituency from citizens to companies can respond to the new opportunities it creates.

More than fifty per cent of the world's population now lives in cities so leadership from urban centres and regions under the C40 Cities and R20 Regions of Climate Action initiatives gives us cause for optimism.

Just as Finland showed how a small country can become a world leader in technology, British Columbia has shown how, in three years, a region can leap to the front of the climate policy pack.

Beginning in 2008, the Province implemented a wide range of policies to create a revenue-neutral carbon tax, committed to carbon-neutral government operations and regulations that tackle emissions from vehicles, buildings and landfill gas sites.

The Province also ensured that the investment environment for clean technology would capitalise on natural resource endowments through a bioenergy strategy and tax and venture capital programmes that create strong conditions for growth.

Revenues from the clean technology sector had grown to $2.5bn by 2010; while that amount is dwarfed by investment by countries like China, the Province has established itself as one of the most vibrant clean technology innovation hubs in the world and the businesses that succeed there are poised to take on export markets.

Companies like Offsetters have emerged as innovative leaders in carbon management in North America, in response to the new opportunities created by policymakers.

Successful climate policy not only requires comprehensive and intelligent policy design; the greatest barrier to progress in the low-carbon economy is social acceptance of new policy and technologies.

The greatest opportunity to show the world how new buildings and transportation systems not only reduce emissions but also improve quality of life was the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Not only was it the greenest Games in history, it was also the first carbon-neutral Olympics.

Offsetters, in collaboration with the Vancouver Organising Committee, worked closely to offset the direct emissions of the Games and to engage spectators, athletes, sponsors and partners to understand their carbon footprint as part of the indirect emissions associated with the Games.

The aim was to reduce that footprint where possible, and finally, to offset those emissions that could not be reduced. As a result, three billion viewers and hundreds of thousands of guests witnessed how investment in low-carbon infrastructure created a backdrop to an Olympic Games that was both breathtaking and highly effective. This successful relationship has set a precedent for future Olympic Games and large-scale events to follow.

Cities within the Province continue to build on their legacy of sustainable urban design, creating the most liveable urban areas in the world through policies that encourage density, building retrofits and the development of infrastructure for green vehicles.

Perhaps the most comprehensive reinvention of a city is on the campus of the University of British Columbia. Functioning like a city with 60,000 inhabitants, the university's leadership has committed to turn the campus into a living laboratory for clean technology innovation, with a target of 33 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2015 and 60 per cent by 2020.

By turning the campus infrastructure into a laboratory where emerging companies can develop and test technologies, including a biogasification system developed with Nexterra and GE, and through the construction of The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (the greenest building in North America), the vision is to create a vibrant cluster of commercial innovators and world- class researchers.

Climate change will not be solved through a weak and non-binding consensus among 200 nations. It will be solved through the vigour, energy and resolve of thousands of smaller jurisdictions around the globe that choose to master their own destinies.

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