British Columbia

Cities produce 60% of global greenhouse gases. Here are some ideas to fix this from a B.C. delegate at COP26

Shauna Sylvester, executive director of Simon Fraser University's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, is leading a delegation of Canadian cities at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland where nations are laying out their plans to curb emissions and deal with the effects of climate change.

Shauna Sylvester, with SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, is leading city delegates in Glasgow

Shauna Sylvester, who campaigned to be mayor of Vancouver in 2019, is currently at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland leading a delegation of Canadian cities at the United Nations climate summit. (Christer Waara/CBC)

World leaders from almost 200 countries are in Glasgow for two weeks of intense negotiations on how to tackle global warming and, while the spotlight is on heads of state, a British Columbian delegate to COP26 says city leaders also have the power to help save the planet and should use it.

Shauna Sylvester, executive director of Simon Fraser University's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, is leading a delegation of Canadian cities at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland where nations are laying out their plans to curb emissions and deal with the effects of climate change.

And cities are major contributors to climate change. According to the UN, they account for only two per cent of the Earth's surface, but consume 78 per cent of the world's energy and produce more than 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

B.C. municipalities are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts. In the past six months,  almost 600 people died in an unprecedented heat dome, the entire town of Lytton was levelled by wildfire, and much of the province was plagued by drought.

"This is not a one off, we're going to expect more of this," said Sylvester, referring to climate emergencies in B.C. cities while speaking to The Early Edition from Europe.

Damaged buildings are seen in Lytton, B.C., on July 9, 2021, following a wildfire that destroyed most of the village on June 30, the day after setting a national temperature record (49.6 C). (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

'A living hell'

When the heat dome hit at the end of June, Derrick Andrews was horrified by the conditions his wife endured in a 15-storey, 50-year-old Vancouver care home with no air conditioning as temperatures soared toward 40 degrees.

"Because of the stress ... she really became mute so I was unable to get anything from her and she was not responding. All she could say was hot, hot, hot," said Andrews.

Andrews called the situation his wife and 240 other residents suffered "a living hell."

To help mitigate deaths and damages from climate events in cities, Sylvester says there should be plans in place at all highrises, including care homes, hotels and single room occupancy buildings, detailing how to connect and help vulnerable occupants when the mercury spikes.

"We cannot continue to wait until the next heat dome occurs. Every single one of those buildings has to have a strategy," she said. 

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic is pictured outside of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. The B.C. Coroners Service says the deaths of 595 people between June 18 and Aug. 12 were related to the heat. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Keep it cool

Urban planners can also make design decisions that can help keep cities cooler, she said, including prioritizing ventilation corridors in new buildings and using less concrete and more living walls and green roofs. 

And it's not just buildings themselves that trap heat. Sylvester also suggests roads and courtyards be paved with more porous asphalt that absorbs water and doesn't act as a heat radiator.

Cities, she said, should also be planting more trees to increase green canopies and retain cool air.

Indoor living walls can retain cool air and help reduce interior temperatures during heat events, according to Sylvester. (Getty Images)

"We've got so much black in our city, so much cement that's capturing heat. We've got to start planting trees in every single vulnerable neighborhood," said Sylvester.

City planners, she said, should encourage density and also focus on incentives and infrastructure that get people out of gas-guzzling vehicles and onto bikes and public transit.

"If we wanted to reduce our greenhouse gases, we wouldn't have so many single-family houses," said Sylvester.

Real world examples

Adam Freed, principal for sustainability at Bloomberg Associates — a consulting firm working with cities around the world to combat climate change — said city leaders making good climate choices can also attract voters.

He pointed to Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who was re-elected in 2020 after running on a platform focused on reducing pollution in the city of lights that included removing over 70,000 parking spots on Parisian streets.

In Milan, Freed said, Mayor Beppe Sala, a global leader when it comes to bike lanes and congestion charges, ran on an aggressive climate action plan and was re-elected in October.

"There are mayors around the world who are showing that taking climate action is actually helping them govern better and be recognized by the public," Freed told CBC's On The Coast.

Sylvester said there is already some great work being done by Metro Vancouver leaders, where the plan is to transition to zero emissions buildings in all new construction by 2030. 

She also said cities can't go it alone and need financial support from Ottawa but money for climate change initiatives has to come with strings attached.

"We want to see that money tied to performance that has to bring down greenhouse gases. It's not a free cheque," she said.

A national building code, according to Sylvester, would also help ensure cities coast-to-coast are constructing projects that are designed with inevitable climate events in mind.

To learn more about the impacts of climate change in British Columbia, check out the CBC British Columbia podcast 2050: Degrees of Change where CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe explores how our world and lives will adapt to climate change within a few decades. You can find it wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts, or right here on CBC Listen.

With files from The Associated Press, The Early Edition and On The Coast


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?