WCS Engagement + Planning’s recent work to support the “Big Moves” climate action initiatives in Squamish and Whistler highlights the importance of understanding and addressing travel emissions. While this “elephant in the room” of Whistler’s tourism based economy and Squamish’s workforce commuting is not always fully captured in greenhouse gas inventories, both local governments are demonstrating leadership in this area. That, however, is where the similarities end.

In Squamish, the nearly 2,600 + daily commuters to Vancouver and Whistler represents 25% of the workforce (2016 Census) and stands out as a major economic driver. At the same time this commuting is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions for that community and must be addressed. In order to do that, Squamish’s climate action plan focuses on “Shifting Beyond the Car” and “Decarbonizing Transportation” as Big Moves toward their ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. Securing regional public transportation, electrifying passenger vehicles and removing the need to commute by creating more opportunities for local economic development and jobs are the top actions identified to reduce these travel emissions.

In Whistler, the average daily visitation number to the community is about two times the permanent population of about 11,900. This visitation is at the core of Whistler’s identity and economy and represents approximately 25% of all tourism export revenues for the province. While the emissions from visitor activities within Whistler are captured in the local greenhouse gas inventory, the travel emissions (e.g. flights) fall outside of the reporting boundary. Past estimates peg these travel emissions at up to 18 times greater than total community emissions The magnitude of Whistler’s elephant in the room is many times larger than Squamish’s and arguably harder to wrestle down. However, like its neighbour to the south, Whistler displays leadership in identifying “Reduce Visitor Travel Emissions” as their third of six Big Moves. Actions to reduce these travel emissions (while maintaining the tourism economic benefits for Whistler and the province) are certainly not as clear or as practical as Squamish’s commuter travel emissions actions, but action is just as necessary.

Given the importance of reducing visitor travel emissions, as well as our work in all of the province’s 14 resort communities, WCS Engagement + Planning will explore this topic in the coming months. The current respite from long haul travel gives a chance to define what ‘building back better’ with low carbon travel looks like, explore where the travel industry is at now, map the pathways to success, and use this background information to bio-fuel a dialogue as to what role Whistler and British Columbia might have in a low carbon transition.

We hope you will join us for the ride (on a bike of course)!

For more information on regional efforts to reduce tourism-related travel emissions, please contact Dan (dwilson[at]whistlercentre.ca).