Why improving energy performance of buildings in Canada will help meet Paris climate obligations

Karen Tam Wu and Julia Langer write an important article on the Policy Options website, calling for bold action in Canada’s buildings sector. This may be about Canada but it is a message for all of us.


Shifting to energy-efficient homes and buildings will help us reach our 2030 Paris Agreement target, and it will also reduce Canadians’ energy costs

In December 2016, Canada’s first ministers set the stage for bold action in the building sector. They committed, in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, to pursue some of the lowest-cost, most rapidly achievable ways to reduce carbon emissions. On the heels of the Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, in mid-August, the time has come for governments at all levels to redouble their efforts and support the rapid and complete implementation of these measures.

The shift to ultra-energy-efficient and low-carbon homes and buildings will help Canada reach its 2030 climate target under the Paris Agreement as well as its longer-term decarbonization goals. It will also reduce energy costs for Canadians.

Ten organizations — including the Pembina Institute, the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance and the Atmospheric Fund — are urging the federal, provincial and territorial governments to prioritize swift action on new and existing buildings. These organizations sent a letter to Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.

To improve energy efficiency, reduce energy costs and create green jobs, our coalition encourages these key federal actions:

  • driving momentum toward “net-zero-energy-ready” new construction,
  • accelerating retrofits and emissions reductions in existing buildings,
  • improving energy efficiency standards for appliances,
  • catalyzing private investment in energy efficiency through strategic use of public funds, and
  • leading by example with public buildings.

In addition to the federal government making good on its commitments, the provinces must fulfill their end of the bargain, as set out in the Pan-Canadian Framework. They pledged to implement net-zero-energy-ready building codes in their jurisdictions by around 2030, and British Columbia and Ontario have already done so. Provinces should also join the federal government in leading by example with public buildings: requiring that new buildings meet net-zero-energy-ready standards immediately and developing retrofit strategies for existing buildings.

Other necessary provincial actions include adopting the model retrofit code that is being developed by the federal government, requiring energy labelling and disclosure for homes and businesses by 2019, and bolstering energy efficiency standards for equipment. Provincial governments have a responsibility to enact supporting legislation in line with the Pan-Canadian Framework where they have the authority to do so, and to share lessons learned along the way with other jurisdictions.

The framework provided the ambition, now we need to see action and accountability. Moving to an ultra-energy-efficient, low-carbon building sector is a win-win for Canadians. When energy efficiency in our homes and buildings increases, our carbon pollution and utility bills will decrease. An energy-efficient home can lower energy bills by up to 50 percent, and there are already nearly 300,000 jobs in Canada’s green building sector.

The federal and provincial governments can further support this sector by providing targeted training and capacity-building for staff, and resources to assist compliance and enforcement with regulations. Governments can work together to provide innovative financing and incentive programs, and they can combine their funds effectively to capitalize these programs and leverage private investment.

A transparent mechanism needs to be in place to demonstrate the provinces’ accountability for the federal funding they will receive under the Pan-Canadian Framework. It will provide assurance that these funds are being used effectively and in line with Canada’s overall objectives for moving to a low-carbon economy and meeting our climate commitments.

Canada has an important opportunity to transform the built environment and transition to a low-carbon future, while enhancing the performance and livability of Canadian homes and businesses. Demonstrating that a low-carbon building sector can be prosperous and innovative will bode well for a successful shift to clean growth across all sectors of our economy.

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