Consistent public messaging will play a crucial role in Vancouver’s next steps towards climate action.
During a summer overshadowed by deadly, severe weather events, 48 percent of Canadians say climate change is a more urgent matter than they previously thought, according to a new Ipsos-Global poll.
With public attention and political pressure at an all time high, one climate strategist says now is a pivotal moment for leaders to start mobilizing societal change.
“Even people who are very concerned about climate change, most have no clear idea of how they can make a difference,” says Stephen Sheppard of UBC's Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CAPL). “There has been no COVID-style consistent messaging on what behaviours people need to do to protect themselves and their communities.”
CAPL has been developing ways to ramp up community engagement in climate adaptation strategies through the program Cool ‘Hoods Champs, as well as the Citizen’s Coolkit.
A report by the Coolkit Team found that the majority of people surveyed didn’t know B.C.’s 2007 carbon reduction target of 80 percent by 2050. Similarly, data shows that few Vancouverites know the local official target of a 50 percent reduction by 2030.
“This is a critical failing of the government, scientists and media,” says Sheppard.
Clear communication and coordination is also needed between different levels of government. In June, Vancouver city council voted in favour of temporarily suspending the city’s tree protection bylaw, in an effort to reduce the chronic backlog of building construction permits.
The decision puts hundreds of small trees at jeopardy, countering council’s own climate emergency goals, and targets by the Park Board to increase tree canopy by 30 percent.
Barely a month later, after 570 British Columbians died in a heat wave, Vancouver city council passed a motion to plan for future heat waves. Prioritizing tree planting initiatives was included in the motion, a direct response to a memo by the City Planning Commission.
Brad Badelt, the assistant director of the City’s Sustainability Group, says many of the recommendations that were put forward by the city planning commission are already part of the 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.
“You can plant more trees. You just need more budget, more staff to do it, to accelerate the pace beyond what we've been doing over the past number of years,” Badelt says, adding that the memo has triggered a quicker response to calls for climate action.
Vancouver also needs to give marginalized communities an active role in consultations, as they're disproportionately harmed by the results of climate change.
“It is not incidental that this memo was written by a Black woman who is a renter and lives in an urban heat island and a disabled white woman who lives in poverty in social housing,” says co-author Gabrielle Peters, who identifies as the latter.
“All of this is a reflection of considerable efforts going into warning the public about climate change, but less effort going into making sure people are able to mitigate and survive the impacts of it.”
During the pandemic, people in Vancouver have drastically changed their behaviour to save lives, largely because we’ve been given clear instructions—stay home, stay apart, wear a face mask, etc.
If fear and uncertainty fuelled pandemic fatigue, and COVID-19 vaccines restored hope for the future, now is the time for Vancouver to roll out rules for saving the planet, together.