Over the last six years, Canada’s Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program provided more recovery funding than in its first 39 years – since it was launched in 1970 – combined, largely due to the acceleration of climate change and extreme weather events.
“Let’s talk numbers. The costs of climate change are high and they are going to rise,” says Merran Smith, executive director at climate and clean energy think-tank Clean Energy Canada. “Infrastructure will be damaged and industries will be interrupted.”
To seriously reduce the costs of climate change – which are in the billions, and growing – policy-makers and business leaders in Canada and across the globe need to accelerate their clean growth plans, believes Ms. Smith. “Climate action isn’t just a carbon tax or a new wind turbine. It’s a smorgasbord of policies, technologies and industry shifts – it’s together that their impact will be felt.”
Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), the leading national organization dedicated to advancing green building and sustainable community development practices, also believes that it isn’t one action that will enable Canada to meet its climate targets. “We need many actions from different organizations and sectors,” he says. “We need to work on buildings, transportation and industry to curb emissions across the board.”
While Mr. Mueller welcomes the current leadership’s will to implement policy, he believes regulations take time to bear results, and there is an imperative for industry – and citizens – to act immediately.
Since the building sector creates structures that are meant to last, they have to be built with the future in mind. “Buildings and communities have a large role to play, not only in mitigating the effects of climate change, but also in becoming more resilient and adaptive,” Mr. Mueller says. “We’re advocating for buildings that produce less carbon but also use less energy now and in the future.”
The Zero Carbon Buildings Framework, released by the CaGBC last month, provides a platform for assessing a building’s energy efficiency with the goal to minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is the result of a comprehensive review of international net zero building approaches and significant industry consultation. “We are providing the market with a state-of -the-art guideline and, soon, the third-party verification and support required to make net zero carbon buildings a reality in the near future,” says Mr. Mueller.
The framework establishes key components for the evaluation of building carbon footprints, which includes a carbon intensity metric to measure GHG performance and an energy-intensity metric to ensure a building is designed to high energy performance targets. These metrics are complemented by an embodied carbon metric for recognizing the importance of building material lifecycle impacts. In addition, generating renewable energy on-site – or procuring it directly in order to ensure the addition of clean power generation – is required.
Mr. Mueller hopes this platform will serve as a guide and inspiration for developers looking to build, and owners and operators looking to upgrade buildings to low carbon performance. “Due to Canada’s low energy prices, a large number of new and existing buildings are not very energy efficient. In addition to low or zero carbon targets, there is a solid business case behind operational improvement or retrofits, which typically recover investments in three to seven years,” he says. “By retrofitting, building owners can also make a significant difference in carbon emissions.”
While incentives and a shift in regulations can help facilitate the move towards more sustainable building practices, demonstrating some of the resulting financial, market and social benefits can encourage voluntary action, says Mr. Mueller. “In essence, improving building environmental performance simply makes good business sense.”
Ms. Smith also believes that the opportunities that come along with the shift to a low-carbon economy are sizable. “Already, the clean energy sector employs tens of thousands of Canadians,” she says. “The clean energy transition can be seen in the world around us: sustainable buildings, better transit, cars that run on electric.
“Clean growth isn’t just happening on far-away wind farms – it’s happening right here in our communities.”