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Home Metro Vancouver’s roadmap to cut carbon from existing buildings

Metro Vancouver’s roadmap to cut carbon from existing buildings

British Columbia (BC) has the reputation of being one of the greenest provinces in Canada, and indeed one of the greenest sub-national jurisdictions in the world. The Metro Vancouver Regional District (Metro Vancouver) is the largest and most dense region in BC, comprising over 50% of BC’s population. Metro Vancouver updated their  Climate 2050 Strategic Framework in 2019, committing to the following greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets:

  • 45% GHG reduction  by 2030 (from 2010 levels)
  • Carbon neutral region by 2050

For sector-specific targets, Metro Vancouver published their Clean Air Plan this year, detailing GHG reduction targets and implementation plans for existing buildings. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of sectoral targets. The GHG reduction target for existing buildings outlined in this plan are as follows:

All Buildings:

  • 35% GHG reduction  by 2030 (from 2010 levels)
  • 35% reduction in fine particulate matter emissions from buildings (from 2020 levels)
  • 15% reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions from buildings (from 2020 levels)

New Buildings:

  • Zero carbon operations by 2030 
  • 40% less embodied carbon from construction
Figure 1: GHG reduction targets in Metro Vancouver by sector. Climate 2050 Strategic Framework, page 21. Metro Vancouver

Current GHG Inventory

Metro Vancouver collects periodic emissions inventories from various GHG emitting sources across the region. The following figure shows the 2019 regional carbon footprint breakdown.

Figure 2: Regional GHG emissions breakdown, Metro 2040, Metro Vancouver

Approximately 26% of Metro Vancouver’s GHG emissions come from buildings, predominantly from natural gas heating or indoor space and water (BC’s electricity grid is nearly zero carbon). The most recent GHG inventory (2019) notes this to be roughly 3.8 million tonnes of CO2e. The embodied carbon emissions of buildings, also known as life cycle emissions outside of operational use, are not currently calculated or disclosed by the City at a regional level. The breakdown of operational GHG emissions from heating buildings by building type can be seen in Figure 3. 

Figure 3: GHG emissions from building types, Metro 2040, Metro Vancouver

Metro Vancouver Housing Stock and Development Trends

After the global economic crisis in 2008/09, new housing projects started to gain momentum with 2018 being the highest number of completions in the past 20 years. Figures 4 and 5 showcase changes and growth to Metro Vancouver’s housing stock from 2001 to 2016. Overall, apartments are accounting for an increasing portion of new developments, making up about 60% of the housing market growth over the last 15 years. These rates are higher in comparison to other major Canadian cities, such as Toronto (50%) and Calgary (24%). Further, Metro Vancouver is facing a declining number of new single-detached dwellings, with even more being demolished. Between 2009-2018, single-detached and other ground-oriented dwellings accounted for 87% of the residential demolitions

Figure 4 & 5: Metro Vancouver’s housing stock composition (top) and market share growth (bottom) from 2001-2016, Metro Vancouver 2016 Census Bulletin: Changing Composition of the Housing Stock, 2016

This shift in housing stock can largely be attributed to increased population and densification occurring in Metro Vancouver. From 2011 to 2016 alone, the region’s population increased by 150,000 residents.  However, in this same timeframe, only 71,000 units were added to the market, reinforcing the region’s reputation for having low vacancy rates in general, especially in major cities. Looking into future projections up to 2050 (Figure 6), it is estimated that increased multi-unit and apartment composition trends will continue. As land scarcity and increases in regional population increase, efficient existing building retrofits is imperative to drive GHG emissions down to meet targets.      

Figure 6: Metro Vancouver projected housing stock 2017-2050, Metro Vancouver Growth Projections – A Backgrounder, 2018

Metro Vancouver’s Existing Building Strategy

Buildings are identified as one of the Regional Priorities in Metro Vancouver’s Climate 2050 Strategic Framework. As part of this set of priorities, Metro Vancouver approved the Buildings Roadmap on November 26th, for the pathway to zero emissions and resilient buildings. This roadmap includes seven key strategies to reduce GHG emissions and increase resiliency for new and existing buildings to meet the goal of carbon-neutral building stock by 2050. As shown in Figure 7, a majority of the carbon reductions by 2050 will come from reductions for operational carbon in existing buildings. 

Figure 7: GHG reduction impacts of key strategies, Buildings Roadmap, page 14, Metro Vancouver

The following are strategies listed in the Buildings Roadmap related to existing buildings:

Strategy 1: Signal the Transition to Zero-Emission Buildings through Requirements and Standards. Actions include:

  • Develop regulatory requirements with GHG performance targets for large existing commercial and residential buildings for energy performance,  benchmarking, and reporting. 
  • Develop regulatory requirements for GHG performance targets for existing houses and townhomes to reach zero carbon emissions before 2050 in coordination with provincial regulatory requirements.
  • Advocate to the BC Government for establishment of a BC Retrofit Code with increasingly stringent greenhouse gas performance for buildings undergoing deep retrofits. 
  • Building Electrification Mandate for BC Hydro by advocating to the provincial government to direct BC Hydro and the BC Utilities Commission for the acceleration and promotion of building electrification. 
  • Develop requirements for buildings to obtain an energy and GHG emissions label for public disclosure when property is constructed or listed for sale, retal, or lease. 
  • Advocate to the federal and provincial governments to establish standards for new and imported heating and cooling equipment for minimum GHG requirement and energy performance rating of 100%
  • Significantly Reduce Refrigerant Leaks in Building Equipment through outreach and advocating the provincial government to enhance compliance with halocarbon regulations
  • Establish valuation guidelines for low and zero emissions buildings in collaboration with the federal and provincial governments to support lenders to provide competitive mortgages and loads for low carbon buildings.

Strategy 2: Accelerate Demand for Zero Emission Buildings through Research, Education, and Incentives:

  • Advocate the provincial and federal government to increase incentives and tax credits for energy efficiency incentives and fuel-switching.
  • Develop online tools with the provincial and federal government to help building owners choose low carbon solutions.
  • Develop strategic financing tools in collaboration with member jurisdictions, provincial and federal government, energy utilities, and etc, for building owners to accelerate low carbon upgrades. 
  • Develop a Building Decarbonization Coalition with governments, energy utilities, construction industry, academia, non-government organizations, and etc to address barriers and create opportunities for zero emissions building transitions. 
  • In collaboration with the provincial government, expand energy advisor services for building owners to more easily access technical support and financial incentives. 
  • Streamline electricity service upgrades, making it cheaper and faster through advocating to BC Hydro.
  • Working alongside industry stakeholders and other governments to ensure that industry training and certification meets growing market demand for zero emissions building design

Strategy 3: Shift to Zero Carbon District Energy Systems

  • Work with the provincial government, energy utilities and member jurisdiction to develop a regulatory pathway for emissions requirements for district energy systems (Metro Van’s DE systems use a variety of renewable and non-renewable fuel sources, most commonly natural gas. By converting the fuel source for Metro Vancouver’s 18 District Energy systems,entire clusters of existing buildings can be decarbonized).
  • Assess feasibility of utilizing sewer heat and biogas generation for low carbon district energy.

Existing programs 

While many of the strategies listed above indicate that future plans, actions, and programs will be developed to help home and building owners accelerate and finance the transition to zero-emission building, some programs already exist in the province. On October 25th, 2021, BC released a freshly updated and more ambitious climate plan, the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030. This roadmap builds on the CleanBC plan first introduced in 2018, putting greater focus on the transition away from fossil fuels, and includes a series of sector-specific targets and plans.

As part of Clean BC’s Roadmap to 2030 for the reduction of energy use and GHG emissions, businesses and homeworkers have access to several programs for building improvements. The following programs provide support, rebates, low-interest loans and financing, and connection to contractors qualified in high-performance retrofits:

Mantle Developments can help reduce your exposure to climate risk.

Contact us for help understanding the risks and opportunities that climate change poses to your business and how to manage them. We can help guide your existing-building retrofit projects to achieve green building certifications, as well as net-zero carbon emissions transitions to meet current and future regional climate policies.

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