Charlie Smith, The Georgia Straight

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson has been invited to participate in a prestigious monthly debate on environmental issues hosted by the president of France’s parliament, Claude Bartolone. The Tuesday (May 5) event will also feature Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo in a main ballroom at the Hôtel de Lassay, where Bartolone lives.

“It feels like a real honour,” Robertson told the Straight by phone from his office.

The format includes a journalist from the news channel i> Télé asking questions in front of an audience of 200 to 250 people. The trip is being financed by France’s National Assembly, and Robertson will also speak at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris in advance of the United Nations’ COP21 climate conference taking place in the French capital later this year.

“I’ll tell the story of Vancouver’s quest to be the world’s greenest city and the generations of work that have positioned us well—and the big challenges that remain to achieve,” Robertson said.

This year, city council unanimously passed a motion instructing staff to report back on how Vancouver can wean itself off fossil fuels and become reliant on renewable sources of energy. Robertson said that this objective is generating interest among those who pay attention to the role that cities can play in addressing climate change.

“It’s very conceivable in a few decades that electricity powers all of our transportation needs,” the mayor stated. “We have the benefit of 94 percent of our electricity already generated from renewable energy, so that’s a big advantage to start with.”

Robertson noted that the largest single source of greenhouse gases in Vancouver is Central Heat Distribution Ltd., which burns natural gas to provide steam heat to many buildings in the downtown core. Developer Ian Gillespie assumed ownership of the company last year through Creative Energy Canada Platforms Corp.

“They’re scoping out a big transformation of their whole heating system to renewables, making it possible for the downtown core to dramatically reduce the natural gas burned,” Robertson said. He suggested that the company could rely on biomass from waste wood to achieve this.

Robertson will also speak at an urban environmental conference taking place in Vancouver from May 13 to 15. Put on by the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue's Renewable Cities initiative, it will include international experts speaking on making the transition to a low-carbon economy.