COP 26: UN Global Innovation Hub Speech

Vancouver's approach to combatting the climate emergency can be a blueprint for all cities.

Profile picture for Kennedy Stewart
Kennedy Stewart
November 01, 2021

Mayor Stewart COP26 - UN Global Innovation Hub

 Full Remarks

Good morning

My name is Kennedy Stewart 

I am the Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I acknowledge that I speak today from the unceded, stolen territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Watuth First Nations.

I’ll begin this morning by providing some context about Vancouver, then move to speak about three items: 

  1. I provide an example how we generate disruptive innovation to tackle climate change
  2. How we use regulation to drive growth in our clean-tech industry 
  3. How Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is part of everything we do in Vancouver


I would like to begin by providing some context about our city.

Two years ago, during global demonstrations led by Greta Thunberg and other young people all over the world, more than 100,000 of us took to our streets to protest inaction on climate change. This was a remarkable event, but not out of the ordinary for our city.

Vancouver has a long history of environmental leadership. We’re proud to be the birthplace of Greenpeace which celebrated its 50th anniversary just a month ago.

For generations, Vancouverites have pushed for meaningful environmental progress. From saying no to freeways set to devastate our downtown, to fighting pipelines built to carry tar sands bitumen to our pristine West Coast.

This last topic is a personal one for me. 

Just months before I was elected mayor in 2018, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with local First Nations and residents and was arrested trying to stop these pipelines from being built to protect our rivers, streams, and oceans from the inevitable spills that will come from these reckless projects. 

So it should come as no surprise that the City of Vancouver has been among the world’s leading cities with our Greenest City Action Plan -- nor that the community is pushing us to do more.

In response, the City of Vancouver declared a climate emergency in January 2019 and has subsequently approved a detailed action plan to scale up our efforts. Our six big moves include: complete communities, active transportation, zero emission vehicles, zero emission heating and hot water, low carbon construction materials, and nature-based carbon sequestration

Our plan targets a 50% cut in carbon pollution by 2030 and reaffirmed Vancouver’s commitment to net-zero emissions before 2050 to align with IPCC guidelines.

Disruptive Innovation

These targets guide our work, but we have to think outside of the box if we are going to meet them. Municipalities are accustomed to incremental innovation, but only with disruptive innovation will we meet our aggressive goals. 

One way forward is to rework the tools we have to spur innovation and partnerships between government and business and we’re doing just that with Project Greenlight.

Project Greenlight is a tech-demonstration platform and membership-driven network which grows partnership opportunities between private industry and major asset owners in Vancouver. It helps accelerate clean-tech adoption by posting challenges on the Project Greenlight platform to which innovators from around the world, and not just in our backyard, are invited to respond.

Our Project Greenlight, Green Rainwater Infrastructure Challenge sourced solutions to help provide better system performance and maintenance trigger data to reduce operational costs in our combined sewer/stormwater systems. And, we share what we learn with other municipalities around the world facing similar problems.


Using Regulation to drive growth clean-tech growth 

Mass timber rental building

Another way we are helping to create a local business ecosystem and stronger supply chain is through our green building code which requires all new buildings to be zero emission by 2025 and requires all buildings to cut emissions by 50% by 2030.

These policies will require $3.3 billion in high-performance building systems and materials to meet our emission targets which provides fantastic opportunities for local businesses working in several key product areas  -- including windows, heat pumps, and building design and have led us to have the  highest per-capita concentration of clean-tech companies in the country.

Vancouver’s green building policies also require reducing embodied carbon by 40% by 2030 which will be achieved by using low carbon materials such as mass timber. Mass timber greatly reduces a building’s carbon footprint, generates less polluting construction sites, while supporting the local forest industry.


 Reconciliation and Climate Change


I want to end by speaking about two new exciting compact communities which fully incorporate a nature-based approach to building and zero carbon building designs to help fight climate change.

But just as important, they will also advance reconciliation with “Jericho” being built by a Musquem, Squamish and Tsleil-Watuth partnership, and “Sen̓áḵw,” being built by the Squamish Nation.

In combination, these projects combine to provide nearly 20,000 new homes - most of which will be rental housing, with a generous proportion being offered with below market rents.

I can’t think of a better way to create a just, equitable, and sustainable future.

When local First Nations have the opportunity to redevelop their territories AND want to do so in a way that is cleaner and more sustainable than has ever been done before – we have a moral obligation to work in partnership to make it a reality.

To close, I firmly believe the approach we’re taking in Vancouver can be a blueprint for all cities.

A blueprint that promotes disruptive innovation by combining the strengths of business with the procurement power of government.

A blueprint that puts reconciliation and equity at the same level as sustainability.

A blueprint that can be – must be – adopted all over the world.

Thank you.

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