media release

SFU researchers assess Vancouver’s 100 percent renewable energy target

Tackling the challenges in becoming a fossil fuel-free city by 2050

March 14, 2017

A new report from Brett Zuehlke, Mark Jaccard, and Rose Murphy, researchers at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, explores the challenges and opportunities of dramatic greenhouse gas reduction by cities—in this case focusing on Vancouver’s target of becoming 100 percent renewable by 2050.

The report, Can Cities Really Make a Difference? Case Study of Vancouver’s Renewable City Strategy, analyses the technological, economic, jurisdictional and political dimensions of the multi-decade transition away from burning carbon dioxide-emitting gasoline, diesel and natural gas in buildings, industries and vehicles.

The authors of the 30-page report note that the growing claims of climate leadership by cities in recent years have usually not been followed by implementation of the difficult policies necessary to make these claims a reality. Such policies need to focus on fuel switching—beginning with the gradual phase-out of gasoline and natural gas, without which substantial emission reductions will not occur.

Using energy-economy analytical tools, that include the ability to assess policies that change urban form and infrastructure, the report states that Vancouver’s current efforts to promote densification, mixed land-use, energy efficiency, and a shift away from personal vehicles to walking, biking and transit are showing leadership and reducing emissions.

At the same time, Vancouver’s leaders have recognized that this is not enough. The city needs policies that cause fuel substitution—in line with its all-important 100 percent renewables target—but these are a challenge for municipal level governments.

“Vancouver has shown much-needed leadership in initially meshing its livability and emission reductions efforts, and now in recognizing the necessity of fuel-switching as the next stage,” says Mark Jaccard, professor at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management.

“But with greater leadership comes greater challenge. This is why our report distinguishes between what the city could do on its own and where its efforts would benefit from leadership at senior levels of government.”

Jaccard and his research associates have been producing climate policy analyses for 30 years for governments and interest groups at the international, federal, provincial and municipal levels. Jaccard has served as a climate policy expert on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Global Energy Assessment, Canada’s National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, and the BC Climate Action Team.

Dr. Sybil Seitzinger, the executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) welcomed the report, saying it highlights the enormity of the challenge – and the possible solutions - that progressive leaders on climate action, like Vancouver, must consider.   

“This is a solid and important piece of work because it examines the efficacy of climate policies and renewable energy goals that many cities around the world are seeking to implement” says Seitzinger. “Having this type of fine-grained analysis is vital for decision-makers, as it brings clarity to the likely outcomes that different combinations of climate solution pathways can offer.”

(PICS is a financial supporter of the research, as part of its major project on Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment.)



  • Three decades of climate policy failure at all levels of government are mostly the result of political unwillingness to recognize that progress will not occur until there are policies today that gradually phase-out the use of gasoline and natural gas.
  • Vancouver is showing much-needed climate leadership. But its path will be challenging.





As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded more than 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is Canada’s leading comprehensive research university and is ranked one of the top universities in the world. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 35,000 students, and boasts more than 145,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.


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