Trevor Hancock: We need a One Planet Region strategy

As we plan for the economic recovery from COVID-19, many are pointing to the need for a green, just and healthy economic recovery.

Mostly those calls have been directed to the global, national and provincial levels. But what would that mean in Greater Victoria?

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More specifically, what would it take to be a One Planet Region? Because the simple fact that seems to elude not only our political and corporate leaders but most of the rest of us is that we only have one Earth.

The 2019 report from the Global Footprint Network, which had data to 2016, found that Canada’s ecological footprint was equivalent to consuming 4.7 Earths worth of annual biocapacity, with 65 per cent of that being our carbon footprint — meaning one-third is not our carbon footprint.

Things may be a bit better in this region, where we benefit from a milder climate and an almost fossil-fuel-free electricity supply. Nonetheless, the footprint of Victoria and Saanich is estimated to be at least three planets, according to a 2018 estimate by Dr. Jennie Moore at BCIT and Cora Hallsworth, a local environmental consultant.

Among the top five suggestions to create a One Planet Saanich are reducing our purchases of non-food consumables ( “stuff,” in other words) by almost one-third while increasing recycling, and reducing both our meat and dairy consumption and our total food purchasing by a quarter. The latter helps to deal with the massive problem of food waste.

Together with the top two recommendations — eliminate fossil-fuel emissions in buildings and convert half of gasoline private vehicles to electric while reducing the number of vehicles on the road — these five actions will take us a long way toward the target of being a One Planet Region.

They will also have significant health co-benefits, some of which we have seen during the COVID-19 pause: Cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions, fewer motor vehicle crashes. We can also expect longer and healthier lives due to a healthier diet and reduced obesity as well as increased activity associated with active transportation.

So we should use the opportunity of the “pandemic pause” to plot a course to becoming a region with a One Planet footprint and a high quality of life for all. The good news is that most municipalities already have a climate action plan and many — including the CRD — have declared a climate emergency. But while carbon emissions are a large part of the footprint, such plans do not go far enough.

We need to move beyond climate action plans to develop a One Planet strategy for the region.

Many of these ideas are part of an approach that was approved in principle on May 14 by the City of Victoria. Moving Forward, Not Backward is based on the 2018 Common Vision, Common Action Solutions Statement, which created a regional agenda for social and ecological justice. Intended to guide action to create caring, low-carbon communities in the post-COVID-19 world, Moving Forward, Not Backward goes further than One Planet Saanich in also addressing the social aspects of a One Planet Region.

The COVID pause has highlighted and worsened the social injustices inherent in our society, from homelessness and unaffordable housing to undervalued and underpaid service workers. In the transition to a One Planet Region, we can expect to see additional social strains as the economy shifts in new directions. So it calls for a raft of policies intended to “ensure every person can live with security and dignity with access to the basic necessities of life.”

But it also recognizes that local action depends in part on the provincial and federal government putting supportive policies and programs in place. Among other things it calls for a fairer tax system, a robust non-market housing system and a living wage (estimated to be $19.39 in Victoria in 2019), as well as divesting from fossil fuels and ensuring a just transition for energy and other workers.

If the region as a whole and its individual municipalities, the business community and leading institutions and community organisations were to adopt a One Planet Region strategy, it would put us at the forefront of the growing global movement to create One Planet communities.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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