An emphasis on sustainable land use is the most important unheralded gain in British Columbia’s new Roadmap to 2030, the updated climate strategy the province released last month, urban climate and sustainability veteran Alex Boston writes in an opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun.
The update was badly needed in a province whose “climate action leadership has been 90% aspiration and 10% implementation,” Boston says. Against a 2030 target to cut emissions by 40%, B.C. has seen its carbon pollution increase 5% since 2007.
But while the Roadmap’s attention to zero-emission vehicles and failure to put a stop to fossil fuel development have received the most attention since the strategy was released, Boston calls sustainable land use the “biggest landmark” in the new plan.
“Due to auto-oriented urban land use fuelled by road and bridge expansion, B.C.’s vehicle stock is growing at twice the population growth rate,” he explains, from two to three million cars over a 14-year span when the population only grew 18%. “Under current trends, another 1.5 million cars will be added by 2030. Without better land use, there will be more fossil fuel cars and congestion on our roads in 2030 than today.”
While B.C. is by no means the only jurisdiction facing problems with traffic and sprawl, the Roadmap has a couple of roadmaps of its own to follow. “Only one country has cut transportation GHGs below 1990 levels: Sweden,” and “B.C. shares three of Sweden’s policy pillars: carbon pricing, renewable transportation fuels, and Zero Emission Vehicle sales requirements,” Boston explains. “B.C.’s new Roadmap has now sketched out Sweden’s fourth pillar: integrated land use and transportation infrastructure development.”
The other success story is California, where the four-pillar approach has brought a 7% reduction in transportation emissions since 2007. Over that same time span, British Columbia’s have grown 23%.
“The sustainable land use pillar has the potential to not only cut transportation carbon, but also to cut carbon in buildings and preserve terrestrial carbon,” Boston adds. “Urban growth patterns are the biggest and most consistent driver of permanent forest loss after energy development—oil, gas, and hydroelectricity.”
And the “immense” benefits of sustainable land use go beyond carbon reductions.
“Weak urban forest canopy was a key indicator of neighbourhoods with high heat-related deaths during the heat dome,” he writes. “Natural areas permit deep penetration of intense rain and large wave events, mitigating flood risk. Focusing growth in low-risk areas will cost-effectively provide infrastructure needed to meet water, sewage, transportation, and flood defence needs.”