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Here’s a surprise: cars aren’t the biggest polluters in Canada’s “Greenest City”

Penny Nelson

July 6, 2020

In 2019, the City of Vancouver declared a climate emergency. Over the past few months, dialogue sessions, surveys and more have invited the public to weigh in on 19 proposed climate actions which will make up the city’s climate emergency action plan that aims to further reduce carbon emissions. The consultation process has now been completed and the plan is due to be presented to Vancouver City Council in November, 2020.

The proposed actions are divided into three broad categories:

How we move: the transportation of people and goods around the city.

How we build and renovate:  heating homes and hot water with natural gas contributes to GHG emissions. Certain building materials are also culprits, if not while in use, then certainly during manufacturing and disposal.

How we amplify: Vancouver recognises that the city cannot address the climate crisis alone, and is considering how it can work with others to amplify its efforts for greater impact.

A startling statistic presented during the consultation process is that by far the largest contributor to carbon emissions in Vancouver (56%) is the burning of natural gas, a fossil fuel, to heat homes and hot water. Transportation is only the second largest at 38%. By way of comparison, electricity contributes 2%.

The cleanest form of energy freely available to consumers is electricity, but, with BC Hydro’s two-tier pricing structure and their ongoing educational campaign to reduce usage and ensure supply, many property owners have turned to natural gas as a cheaper (and trendier?) choice.

While changes to the building code and new STEP code aim to ensure new builds are designed to be increasingly energy efficient, retrofitting older homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient would have a far greater and – very importantly – more immediate effect on decreasing carbon emissions.

In a “How we build” dialogue session on May 21st, 2020, some attendees identified the high price of retrofits and upgrades as a barrier to improving energy efficiency in older buildings, and that the city’s home renovation rebates only cover a small percentage of actual costs. (And ironically, at this time, installing natural gas appliances still qualifies for grants.) Many residents also qualify for home renovation grants from BC Hydro aimed at reducing heat loss and hence heating by replacing windows and doors, improving insulation and switching to more efficient space- and water heating. Other incentives and funding for BC residents can be found here.

So, while Vancouver strives to reduce GHG emissions further, building on its Greenest City Action Plan’s impressive 12% reduction in carbon pollution between 2007 – 2018, it may be that environmentally concerned professionals such as architects, designers and other renovators are our best hope for making change happen as rapidly as it needs to on the home front.

But although many in the busy renovation industry have embraced energy-efficient technologies and renovation practices, there are still far too many who have not. Informed consumers can drive change by demanding climate-friendly renovations, but in a city famous for the high price of real estate, many can’t afford to be too insistent.


Construction, Development & Real Estate, Energy