Opening plenary at Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum, Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver

Cities in Dialogue: Renewable Energy

June 18, 2015

The overall mood was enthusiastic, focused, and results oriented at the sold out 3-day Global Learning Forum. The forum initiated the launch of Renewable Cities, a 5-year program by SFU’s Centre for Dialogue that took place May 13-15, 2015. Over 300 participants from more than 15 countries were in attendance and included: international experts, municipal staff, elected officials, businesses leaders, NGO staff, representatives from civil society, and global researchers.

Called the first of its kind by Shauna Sylvester, Director of SFU's Centre for Dialogue, the forum hosted attendees who took part in small group capacity building sessions, plenary discussions, networking cafés, and site visits, all of which were focused on supporting the transition to 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency within cities. The capacity building sessions and the plenary sessions focused on dialogue and exploration of shared experiences, obstacles, successes, and proven strategies of working within the renewable energy sector. Success stories and case studies from a number of cities across the globe were discussed including Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Burlington, Vermont.

Of all the stories shared, the story of Burlington, Vermont left me feeling the most optimistic. Burlington is the first city in the United States to run on 100% renewable, which is generated by hydropower, biomass, wind and solar technology. Burlington was able to do this without raising electric rates and is projected to save the city $20 million USD over the next 20 years.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and his staff used the forum to gather insights into how to turn Vancouver city council’s 100% renewable goal into a realistic, long-term plan. At one point during a plenary session at the forum, Mayor Robertson and Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston opened the floor to the audience to provide advice, asking for participants to tweet or write in their suggestions. As the advice poured in from the experts in the room, both men listened actively and took notes.

Vancouver is the first city in Canada and the fourth in North America to make the commitment to 100% renewable energy, putting Vancouver within a group of growing cities and their mayors that are taking an active role in sustainability. This growing trend is both powerful and amazing given the lack of policy power and finances municipal governments have compared to provincial and national governments. Michael Small, Executive Director of Renewable Cities, notes that the strength cities have in achieving 100% renewable energy stems from the fact that municipal governments are accustomed to long-term development plans, and the fact that cities represent the greatest concentration of populations. Higher density rates mean more motivation for greener, liveable cities that include better public transportation and more efficient heating and cooling of buildings. Municipal governments have direct control over both sectors.

Conversion to 100% renewable energy won’t be easy, but it is worth it. Shifting to renewable energy is a crucial step toward achieving climate security. The forum may have ended but the dialogue continues.

Sarah Beley is a recent graduate of Simon Fraser University and a Semester in Dialogue alumni.