Retrofitting buildings, switching to clean energy for heating, and making sure a building’s systems and equipment are working properly could deliver enough greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions for Canada to meet its 2030 climate targets—and then some.
The Canada Green Building Council, a trade association representing the sustainable building industry, released a report offering detailed recommendations on how ‘cleaning up’ buildings could deliver GHG reductions of 30 percent by 2030 on 2005 levels—the current federal climate target—with a potential to hit 51 percent reductions.
The council had been asked to produce its assessment for the sector, responsible for 17 percent of the country’s emissions (12 percent directly, largely for heating, with an additional five percent via the sector’s use of fossil energy), following the provincial-federal Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change issued in 2016, which led to the Pan-Canadian Framework, a national climate and energy plan, agreed later that year.
The framework focused on emissions from the building sector. Ottawa is currently in discussions with the provinces on the subject and is expected to announce measures in the fall. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna this week said that Ottawa is considering financing large-scale retrofits through the government’s infrastructure bank.
The council report recommended the government invest in and deliver incentives for energy efficiency improvements and switching away from fossil fuel use to power heating and cooling in existing buildings. In particular, the council stresses the importance of deep retrofits and recommissioning.
Conventional retrofits emphasize upgrades to a handful of key building systems such as lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. A deep retrofit delivers much greater energy savings by considering all aspects of a building, and involves a sometimes-disruptive overhaul of the building such as adding an air barrier or insulation as part of the exterior façade.
When occupants reorganize the use of space or engage in renovations, this can radically reduce the energy efficiency of a building. Recommissioning involves a rigorous checking process to ensure that equipment and systems are operating as intended. Commissioning of a building is a similar quality management process, ensuring that systems and equipment are installed and operating correctly, but performed during a building’s design and construction stages. Until recently, recommissioning and commissioning have been underused by building occupants, but it is a growing practice that the federal government has identified as potentially being the single most cost effective strategy for reducing building GHG emissions.
The report also recommended greater uptake of on-site renewable energy systems and support for a national net-zero building initiative to create a Canadian standard to guide the industry, as well as investment in more efficient windows, insulation and lighting.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.