Course:CONS200/2020/Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan 2020: in what way does biodiversity conservation fit in and how well have we performed?

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Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan (GCAP) objectives are to make Vancouver the most sustainable city in the world by 2020 — 10 goals and 15 measurable targets are set in collaboration with the City Council as well as residents, businesses, and communities [1]. The plan aims to reduce human impact on the environment through changes towards a more sustainable city lifestyle in a way that can prevent further harm to our biodiversity[1]. The aim to reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions; reduce consumption and waste; restore nature; and introduce ways for active contribution to citizens and businesses, allows improvement to the habitat of species. As of 2018, 41% of the set goals have been achieved[2]. With the lack of 2020 data, the remaining 59% of goals for 2020 are categorized as underachieved (as of 2018). This wiki page will introduce GCAP, how biodiversity conservation is incorporated in GCAP, Vancouver’s performance thus far, and its limitations.

Greenest city action plan logo


Cities produce three quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions globally. Therefore, in order for future generations to have the same living standard, we need to create the greenest cities throughout the world; thus, vision, leadership, action, and partnership is important for our world’s future.

Vision: As a strategy for Vancouver to be a leader of sustainable cities, the vision for the GCAP is to create opportunities, build a strong economy, establish dynamic neighbourhoods, and to be recognized internationally as a city that supports future generations.

Leadership:  Leadership from people who contribute to develop the GCAP, including city staffs, elected officials, organizations, and residents, is essential. The city of Vancouver needs to lead by illustrating how a green city should appear and function, while the success of the programs rely on collaboration between the leadership in agencies and the government.

Action: With clear targets and goals along with regular updates on the GCAP’s actions of priority, a prompt response is required to successfully reach those expectations.

Partnerships: Since Vancouver cannot accomplish GCAP alone due to geographic limitations and the limited insufficient resources, partnerships are essential for success; the power of partnerships has been shown in how the GCAP was created and the current status of goals that have been met, which is promising for our future[1].

  1. Climate and Renewables: To not rely directly on fossil fuels and to decrease community-based greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2020 compared to the 2007 levels.
  2. Green Buildings: To become global leaders in green building design and construction, the plan projects to construct carbon neutral operation buildings only from 2020 and to reduce 20% of both greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in existing buildings from 2007 levels.
  3. Green Transportation: To reduce 20% of the average distance driven per resident compared to 2007 by making walking, cycling, and public transportation the major method of transportation (over 50%).
  4. Zero Waste: To reduce the amount of solid waste entering landfills and incinerators by 50% compared to 2008 levels.
    A map outlining green spaces throughout the city.
  5. Access to Nature: To plant 150,000 new trees, restore or enhance 25 hectares of natural land within the next 10 years to 2020, and to have a 22% increased canopy cover by 2050. Also, to ensure that all Vancouver residents have access to greenery within a 5-minute walk.
  6. Clean Water: To meet or exceed the water quality standards and guidelines of BC, Canada, and even internationally, and to reduce 33% of water consumption per capita compared to 2006.
  7. Local Food: To increase at least 50% of the city-wide and neighbourhood food assets compared to 2010 in order to become a global leader in urban food systems.
  8. Clean Air: To meet or exceed the most stringent air quality guidelines from Metro Vancouver, BC, Canada, and the World Health organization so that locals can enjoy the cleanest air of any of the world’s major cities.
  9. Green Economy: To become a mecca for green enterprises by doubling both the number of green jobs (compared to 2010) and companies that are diligently committed to creating green spaces in their workplaces. (compared to 2011).
  10. Lighter Footprint: To reduce 33% of Vancouver’s ecological footprint compared to 2006 in order to meet the requirements for a one-planet ecological footprint [1].


Framework table for the city's plan.

As of 2019 (date of publication), only 41% of the set goals have been achieved.[2] With the deadline looming for 2020, the implementation has not achieved its goals.

Targets Completed or On Track for Completion in 2020

Percentage of trips made by foot, transit and bicycles 40% 53% 50%
Reduce average distance driven per resident by 20% in 2007 levels (in kilometres) 5,950km 3,690km 4,760km
Plant 150,00 additional trees 0 (starting point) 122,000 trees 150,000 trees
Restore or enhance 25 hectares of natural areas between 2010 and 2020 (in hectares) 0 (starting point) 27 hectares 25 hectares
Increase food assets city-wide by a minimum of 50% over 2010 levels (access to locally sourced food) 3,344 food assets 4,960 food assets 5,010 food assets
Double the number of companies that are actively engaged in 'greening' their operations 5% 9% 10%
50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from city operations from 2007 levels (in metric tonnes) 495,000 tonnes of CO2 220,000 tonnes of CO2 247,500 tonnes of CO2

Targets in Progress or Not Achievable in 2020

Reduce community-based carbon dioxide emissions by 33% from 2007 levels (in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) 2,765,000 tonnes CO2 2,440,000 tonnes CO2 1,865,000 tonnes CO2
Eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from new buildings (in kg. of carbon dioxide per square metre built) 20.7kg CO2/m2 11.8kg CO2/m2 Zero
Reduce energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from already-built structures from 2007 levels (in metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) 1,585,000 tonnes CO2 1,415,000 tonnes CO2 1,270,000 tonnes CO2
Reduce total solid waste going to a landfill or incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels (in metric tonnes) 480,000 tonnes 347,000 tonnes 240,000 tonnes
Reduce per capita water consumption by 33% from 2006 levels (in litres) 583L/person/day 456L/person/day 390L/person/day
Double the number of green jobs from 2010 levels 18,250 jobs 24,700 jobs 36,500 jobs
Reduce Vancouver's ecological footprint per capita by 33% from 2006 levels (in total global hectares per capita) 4.27 hectares 3.40 hectares 2.86 hectares
Reduce water use in City operations by 33% from 2006 levels (in cubic metres) 2,600,000 m3 2,329,000 m3 1,740,000 m3
Ensure that every person lives within a five-minute walk of a park, greenway or other green space (in percentage) 92.60% 92.70% 95.00%
Meet or beat the most stringent air quality guidelines from Metro Vancouver, BC, Canada, and the World Health Organization (instances where it is violated) 27 instances 227 instances Zero

Biodiversity Conservation


Biodiversity refers to the variability among living organisms, while conservation defines a long-term preservation of biodiversity. Biodiversity conservation can be attained, mainly by studying biodiversity, and more importantly by developing approaches to maintain and restore ecosystems. [3] They hold intrinsic values, that they have value regardless of its usefulness.[4] Species and genetic diversity of species show adaptive abilities to different environments and resilience to changes in the ecosystem. This allows more populations of species to survive as the environment is constantly changing. [3]

At first glance, the protection of species and its natural habitat may seem to have no instrumental value (value assigned by humans depending on its usefulness), but in fact, there are major socio-economic benefits. One is that natural resources often represent a culture or an identity of a community. In Canada, people are closely connected to the spiritual and aesthetic values of nature, especially amongst First Nations.[5] Another reason is its significant contribution to the economy. This can vary from wood products and hydropower to ecotourism. Natural resources are essential in the consumption and production in the economy, supporting many livelihoods from both sides.[6] There are countless other advantages, such as food security, recreation, inhibiting climate change etc., and these are only possible because there are a diverse range of species which help to maintain many ecosystems and its services.[4] Conservation can only be achieved with commitment in the current world, where people are dependent on natural resources, which is why GCAP is taking an extra step in Vancouver.

The Conservation on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a multilateral agreement signed in 1992 as a recognition that biodiversity conservation is a necessary component in human development. It focuses on conservation, sustainable use, and equitable sharing of resources.[7] GCAP also takes biodiversity conservation into consideration for human development and establishing a sustainable city. The ways in which biodiversity conservation is integrated and performed in the action plan will further be discussed.

Application to the Greenest City Action Plan

There are multiple approaches that the GCAP takes in order to achieve biodiversity conservation. Goal 5 narrows its focus on the management of nature, including maintenance and restoration of ecosystems. On the other hand, other goals do not specifically mention biodiversity conservation as one of their targets. Nevertheless, because sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity conservation is positively related, it will naturally result in improving biodiversity overall.[1]

Goal 5, “Access to Nature”, is the only goal out of 10 that specifically focuses on improving the biodiversity in Vancouver. This includes preservation and restoration of natural areas, as well as improving the interconnectedness between the environment and the surrounding community.[2]

One of the ways in which the GCAP approaches to improve the community’s “Access to Nature”, is to involve the community in managing and restoring natural areas. Park Board is one of the organisations which cooperates with the GCAP, which focuses on guiding the local community as park stewards. They encourage interaction with nature to develop the community’s understanding and awareness of nature in the city.[8] This results in promoting a holistic view between people and nature, that they are interconnected. “Rewilding Vancouver” is one of the major projects which aims to achieve their goal. Not only do they locate and preserve wilderness areas in the city, but they also attempt to integrate nature into the everyday life of people in Vancouver. This includes conservation programs, as well as maintaining parks where people can stroll or walk their dogs.[9]

Depiction of Musqueam Creek's watershed.

In addition, by 2019, the Musqueam Nation and the local community collaborated in restoring the Musqueam creek. Several actions were taken to limit further degradation and improve the quality of the creek. One of the approaches was to remove invasive species and garbage. Invasive species can be destructive to native species because they create competition for survival. Afterwards, about 700 native trees and shrubs were planted to replenish the forest. Furthermore, fences were built to limit access and inhibit erosion of the banks. As a result, there were substantial improvements to the quality of the Musqueam creek, which was reflected in the return of salmons to the creek. [2]

With only goal 5 directly targeting biodiversity conservation, many of the listed goals provide benefits for conserving biodiversity (although unmentioned) as an indirect outcome. Although the plan mentions restoration and conservation in the description of other goals, it is indicated as a means rather than a goal free-standing. However, as sustainability and living standards improve biodiversity conservation can be positively correlated as well. Enhancing the air quality, reducing waste, restoring nature, and encouraging contribution to nature by locals creates a step towards preserving biodiversity achieved in the long-term.

A large amount of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan consists of striving for better air quality through reducing anthropogenic pollution, particularly that of carbon dioxide. With a focus to limit the city’s usage of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere, which ultimately also prevents the climate from further warming, progress towards biodiversity conservation is also achieved[10]. Biodiversity is largely threatened by pollution as it causes species loss and ecosystem dysfunction[11]. Accumulation of atmospheric pollution will give rise to more contributions of harming ecosystems (and thus biodiversity) such as acid rain, damage to vegetation growth, and toxins in the food chain[12]. This evidently also harms ecosystems that serve as habitats for many species in the city and globally as pollution and climate change are across numerous taxa. In addition, carbon pollution causes climate change that can alter weather patterns and consequently transform ecosystems and habitats in ways that species may not be able to adapt to[12]. Species distribution and species diversity are heavily reliant on the climate of certain geographic locations[10]. From 1880 to 1981, there has been a decadal increase in average global temperature at a rate of about +0.07°C (+0.13°F) and from 1981 to current, the rate has increased to +0.18°C (+0.32°F) per decade[13]. The change in our climate forces approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species and populations to adapt to new conditions and risks extinction when unable to. With a +1% in average global temperature, about 10% of the ecosystem would be altered [10].

The city action plan implements a reduction in disposing of solid waste from Vancouver to landfills. With non-intervention, intervention, and natural development, landfill restoration can be made and in turn aid in supporting biodiversity[14]. Additionally, less waste can prevent additional deforestation made for landfills and restored land can bring back species habitat[14].

Limitations of the Plan

According to Paddy Feeny, a director of communications for a British climate change panel, governments should have an authoritative approach in these programs. The message to the public is not necessarily what the public wants to hear, but governments should be there to provide accurate information. There needs to be coordination with the scientific community to deliver the “expert voice of science” to the population. Furthermore, governments have an important role as initiators for community-wide behaviour[15]. Outlining individual actions that individuals may take is essential to initiate engagement at an individual level. Since local engagement has an important role in biodiversity conservation, which is limited at this level due to the method of the approach, improving or preserving biodiversity is also limited.

There are some issues at hand with the city’s plans. They do not have the most comprehensive approaches for individuals to take, but instead, they just outline objectives for the city as a whole. By not individualizing actions, they make it hard for the general public to grasp actions that can be taken at the household level.

The plan also does not have a future vision beyond 2020. The biggest limitation that is encountered in the report is that many goals are simply not achievable on the time-frame stipulated, with over half of the goals (59%) not within completion time. This lack of achievements exposes the fact that the GCAP is faulty by default. No alternatives have been presented by city planners in regard to non-completed objectives; there is no implementation plan beyond 2020 and no binding agreements. Considering less than half the goals have been achieved, it is fair to assess that the plan did not carry out its intended purposes of reducing the city’s impact on the environment. Therefore, a continuous plan that can be revised regularly should be implemented for biodiversity conservation to be achieved as a part of the plan.


The Greenest City Action Plan aimed for Vancouver to be the most sustainable city by 2020, and its goals ultimately achieve progress for biodiversity conservation. By means that are indirect such as reducing carbon pollution and limiting waste disposal as well as more direct means such as restoring areas (Musqueam Creek) and increasing canopy. As of 2019 (date of publication), 41% of the set goals have been achieved. However, there is a lack of communication and inclusivity to and for citizens that act as limitations to the GCAP[2]. The majority of goals (59%) having not been achieved demonstrate the lack of a focused effort, thus, validating the seriousness to overcome limitations and the value for further research that will guide the direction for individuals of Vancouver[2]. Implementation of the GCAP heavily depends on societal participation and guidance from government authorities that, with the scientific community, should lay out a clear pathway for the community to follow.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 City of Vancouver (2014). "Greenest City 2020 Action Plan: Part Two: 2015-2020" (PDF). Hemlock Printers. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 City of Vancouver (2018). "Greenest City Action Plan Implementation Update 2018-2019" (PDF). Hemlock Printers. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stanford Encyclopedia (2003). "Biodiversity". Stanford. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cresswell; et al. (2016). "Importance of Biodiversity". Australia State of the Environment. 
  5. Garnett, Stephen T. (2018). "A spatial overview of the global importance of Indigenous lands for conservation". Nature Sustainability. 
  6. Edwards, Peter J. (1998). "The Value of Biodiversity: where ecology and economy blend" (PDF). Elsevier Science. 83. 
  7. United Nations (1992). "Convention on Biological Diversity" (PDF). Treaty Series. 
  8. Park Board. "Environmental Education and Stewardship Action Plan". City of Vancouver. 
  9. Vancouver Park Board (2014). "Rewilding Vancouver: Environmental Education & Stewardship Action Plan" (PDF). City of Vancouver. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Lenzen et al. (2013). "Modelling Interactions Between Economic Activity, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Biodiversity and Agricultural Production". Environmental Modeling & Assessment. 
  11. Biodiversity Information System for Europe. "Pollution". European Union. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Nature Trust British Columbia. "Conserving land: Threats to biodiversity". Forge and Smith. 
  13. National Centers for Environmental Information (2019). "Global Climate Report - Annual 2019". NOAA. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Simmons, Elizabeth (1999). "Restoration of landfill sites for ecological diversity". SAGE Journals. 
  15. Whitmarsh, Lorraine; Lorenzoni, Irene; O'Neill, Saffron (2011). Engaging the Public with Climate Change. Routledge. pp. 209–210. ISBN 9781849775243. 

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS200. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.