Health professionals, youth, builders and climate champions push Vancouver City Council to uphold climate action

On June 9, CAPE celebrated when Vancouver City Council voted against a measure proposed by city staff that would relieve building permit backlogs by delaying implementation of its Zero Emissions Building Plan from January 2022 to January 2023.

If the measure had passed, the delay would have meant that hundreds of new homes would have been heated by natural gas–a fossil fuel that has no place in a transition to a clean-energy future–and thousands of avoidable tonnes of carbon pollution emissions. It would have also sent a signal countrywide that Vancouver was less than serious about climate action.

Along with many partners, CAPE helped mobilize health professionals to engage in a letter-writing campaign, communicate with media and speak at the council meeting.

On June 8, the day the proposed measure was introduced, an overwhelming majority of 70 speakers from a diverse range of backgrounds, from physicians and teenagers to tradespeople and academics, spoke against the delay.

On behalf of CAPE, President-elect Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver resident and family physician, acknowledged that there was pressure on city staff to move building permitting forward, but pointed to how essential it was for its team to prioritize climate action, saying, “I also practise medicine in rural towns in BC and the north, where I work in a lot of emergency rooms in low-resource settings. And when there’s an emergency, everyone drops what they’re doing and works together as a team to save lives. I think that’s what we have to do in this city – work together to prioritize action on the climate emergency.”

Raising their voices worked, with the proposed measure being voted down by a narrow one-vote margin, 6 to 5. 

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who in the prior week had stated to the media that he would be supporting the delay to speed up building permitting, spoke to the impact of what the speakers had raised and their effect on his change of heart. In his remarks before the vote, he said, “Our brand as a city is the ‘greenest city in the world.’ I think people have internalized that, and to step back from that, to say we’re going to pause on net zero buildings has–I think hit people quite hard.”

CAPE congratulates Vancouver City Council for voting in favour of a healthy future for its residents and looks forward to seeing municipalities across the country follow its example.