New centre for Vancouver to spur urban climate action, especially building retrofits

Retrofitting is a priority for the newly-announced  Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre, to be administered through the Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. According to the SFU press release of January 12, the Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre “will be seeded by a generous $21.7 million endowment from the federal government to identify, finance and scale up local climate solutions, such as building retrofits and electrification of transportation.”  The top priorities stated include “ “Identifying and initiating programmatic priorities, and integrating the Zero Emission Building Exchange to support building sector capacity building”.  For now, though, “the new centre’s work will start modestly. It is expected to grow steadily through partnership, programming investment, leveraging and innovative financing”.  The launch of the Centre is scheduled for  September 2021, after input is gathered “from a range of stakeholders, including local and provincial government, industry, non-profit organizations and the finance sector.”

The Vancouver Centre will be modelled on The Atmospheric Fund – originally known as the Toronto Atmospheric Fund when it was established in 1991 through the advocacy of then-Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton and Dan Leckie.  The Atmospheric Fund now serves Canada’s largest urban area, the Greater Toronto/Hamilton region of approximately 7 million people, and is part of  the  Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3), a  partnership which also includes Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, as well as  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

In What does Canada’s new $15 billion plan mean for urban climate action?” (Dec. 15), The Atmospheric Fund reviews the federal government’s latest climate plan and discusses the two sectors most relevant to municipalities: buildings and transportation. The Atmospheric Fund states that its own priorities for 2021, include: “Partnering with housing providers to initiate deep retrofits in 3,000 housing units this year; Mobilizing $150 million in investment to leverage public funding and attract more capital into low-carbon activity;  Supporting municipalities to adopt green development standards for new buildings and performance standards for existing ones; Providing grants and investment capital to enable even more low-carbon activity like workforce development (clean jobs!) and EV charger installations; and Publishing new research on growing challenges like fugitive methane emissions and embodied carbon in new construction.” 

The governance of climate action in Toronto and Vancouver is summarized in a new article by three academics from the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto, “Strategies and Governance for Implementing Deep Decarbonization Plans at the Local Level, published in the latest issue of the journal Sustainability. It offers case studies of the best practices in climate action governance in Toronto and Vancouver, along with Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; Guelph, Ontario; Park City and New York City in the U.S., Lahti in Finland and Oslo in Norway. These cities range in size from 8,400 people to 9.6 million, but were chosen as “leading and ambitious” cities. The authors identify the importance of transnational networks in city decarbonization planning, and highlight their efforts “to expand their green economies and the capacity of their workforces to meet the future demand for skilled workers, especially in the buildings and construction sectors.”

And briefly:  A recent article in the New York Times also noted the importance of retrofitting: “New York’s real climate challenge: Fixing its aging buildings” (Dec. 29, New York Times). Stating that  “Nearly 70 percent of the city’s total carbon emissions come from buildings. A project to retrofit nine buildings with green technology is pioneering a new solution”.   The article describes the Casa Pasiva retrofitting project , one of a number of  RetrofitNY projects funded by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority.

Green New Deal for Public Housing Act provides concrete proposals and benefits

sanders cortezOn November 14, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez led a press conference to announce the introduction of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act in the United States Senate, under Sanders’ sponsorship. The Bill would eliminate carbon emissions from federal housing, invest approximately $180 billion over ten years in retrofitting and repairs, and create nearly 250,000 decent-paying union jobs per year, according to the many summaries which appeared: for example, in Common Dreams . Bernie Sanders’ press release is here, linking to the legislation, summaries, and a list of  the 50 organizational supporters.  Co-sponsors named are Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

As stated in a press release,  progressive think tank Data for Progress “conducted policy and public opinion research to support this pathbreaking progressive legislation, which advances housing, racial, economic, environmental and climate justice together.” The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act can stand up to Scrutiny  reports the results of the political polling done by Data for Progress.  A related article, “Why Bernie Sanders and AOC are targeting public housing in the first Green New Deal bill” in Vox contends  “By starting with housing, the legislators appear to be trying to make inroads with a broad political base and avoid some of the more contentious aspects of the Green New Deal, like the transition away from fossil fuels. That issue in particular has divided labor unions because it would lead to the end of mining and drilling jobs.”

Data for Progress also conducted economic research which  “shows that a ten-year mobilization of up to $172 billion would retrofit over 1 million public housing units, vastly improving the living conditions of nearly 2 million residents, and creating over 240,000 jobs per year across the United States. These green retrofits would cut 5.6 million tons of annual carbon emissions—the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road. Retrofits and jobs would benefit communities on the frontlines of climate change, poverty and pollution and the country as a whole. Our analysis shows the legislation would create 32,552 jobs per year in New York City alone. A large portion of the jobs nationally—up to 87,000 a year—will be high-quality construction jobs on site at public housing developments.”  A Green New Deal for New York Housing Authority (NYHCA) Communities report is now available, and  a National report is forthcoming- until then, data is available here  .

New York City announces its Green New Deal – including innovative building efficiency requirements and job creation

In a press release on April 22 , New York Mayor  Bill de Blasio announced  “New York City’s Green New Deal, a bold and audacious plan to attack global warming on all fronts….The City is going after the largest source of emissions in New York by mandating that all large existing buildings cut their emissions – a global first. In addition, the Administration will convert government operations to 100 percent clean electricity, implement a plan to ban inefficient all-glass buildings that waste energy and reduce vehicle emissions.”  The full range of Green New Deal policies are laid out in OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City,  which commits to carbon neutrality by 2050, and 100% clean electricity. The full One NYC strategic plan is comprised of 9 volumes, including Volume 3: An Inclusive Economy , which acknowledges the shifting, precarious labour market and envisions green jobs in a fairer,  more equitable environment.

new york skyscraper

Photo by Anthony Quintano, from Flickr

A global first – Energy Efficiency mandates for existing buildings:  The Climate Mobilization Act, passed by New York City Council on April 18,  lays out the “global first” of regulation of the energy efficiency of existing buildings.  Officially called  Introduction 1253-C (unofficially called the “Dirty Buildings Bill”), 1253-C  governs approximately 50,000 existing large and mid-sized buildings- those over 25,000 sq feet-  which are estimated to account for 50% of building emissions. The bill categorizes these buildings by size and use (with exemptions for non-profits, hospitals, religious buildings, rent-controlled housing and low-rise  residential buildings ) and sets emissions caps for each category.  Buildings which exceed their caps will be subject to substantial fines, beginning in 2024. The goal is to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

Seen as historic and innovative, the energy efficiency provisions have been highlighted and summarized in many outlets: “New York City Sets Ambitious Climate Rules for Its Biggest Emitters: Buildings” in Inside Climate News ; “Big Buildings Hurt the Climate. New York City Hopes to Change That” in the New York Times (April 17); “’A New Day in New York’: City Council Passes Sweeping Climate Bill in Common Dreams;  and best of all,  “New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained” (April 23) in Resilience, (originally posted in Grist on April 18).

Job Creation in Retrofitting and Energy Efficiency:  The New York City Central Labor Council strongly supports Introduction 1253-C  and cites job creation estimates drawn from Constructing a Greener New York, Building By Building , a new report  commissioned by Climate Works for All.  The report found that 1253-C would create 23,627 direct construction jobs per year in  retrofitting, and 16,995 indirect jobs per year in building operation and maintenance, manufacturing and professional services.  The report includes a technical appendix which details how it calculated the job estimates, based on the  job multipliers developed by Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lam at the  University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute.

The Mayor’s Green New Deal press release also states “The City, working with partners, will pursue 100 percent carbon-free electricity supply for City government operations with the building of a new connection linking New York City to zero-emission Canadian hydropower. Negotiations will begin right away, with the goal of striking a deal by the end of 2020 and powering city operations entirely with renewable sources of electricity within five years. ” The National Observer describes reaction from Quebec and Hydro Quebec in “New York City’s Green New Deal music to Quebec’s Ears” (April 23).

 

New York City and State announce plans to divest pension funds; Canadian Public Pension fund holds on to coal

I love new yorkNew York City Mayor Bill diBlasio captured headlines on January 10 2018 for his announcement that New York City will divest from fossil fuels and will sue Exxon and other oil companies for the damages of Superstorm Sandy.   Yet  it was actually on December 19 that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo  first announced separate proposals to freeze current fossil fuel investments, divest New York’s public pension funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest in renewable energy.    Common Dreams summarized the announcements in ” ‘Undeniable Victory’: Cheers Follow Proposals to Divest Massive New York Pensions From Fossil Fuels”Reaction from 350.org (Dec. 19)  emphasized the importance of five years of citizen activism , and quoted Bill McKibben, who emphasized the symbolic importance of New York’s announcement:  “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”   (As further proof, in November, administrators of Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund recommended no further investment in fossil fuels and  divestment from existing oil and gas shares , and in the U.K., legal changes are in the works to ease divestment for pension funds.)

At the state level,   Governor Cuomo’s press release  states:  “Governor Cuomo and Comptroller DiNapoli will work together to create an advisory committee of financial, economic, scientific, business and workforce representatives as a resource for the Common Retirement Fund to develop a de-carbonization roadmap to invest in opportunities to combat climate change and support the clean tech economy while assessing financial risks and protecting the Fund.” The New York Common Fund of the state manages approximately $200 billion in retirement assets for more than one million New Yorkers and is  heavily invested in fossil fuels, with nearly $1 billion invested in ExxonMobil alone.

At the city level, officials have set a goal of divesting the city’s  funds from fossil fuel companies within five years , according to the press release from the Office of the Comptroller,  which also highlights the complex process involved.  In February 2017,  the Office of the Comptroller had issued a  press release  stating,  “the Trustees of the New York City Pension Funds … will conduct the first-ever carbon footprint analysis of their portfolios and determine how to best manage their investments with an eye toward climate change. In the 21st century, companies must transition to a low-carbon economy, and a failure to adapt to the realities of global warming could present potential investment risks.”  The New York City pension fund includes municipal employees, teachers, firefighters and police.

Related reading re New York activism : The Divest NY website;  “How New Yorkers won fossil fuel divestment”  from the Indypendent (Jan. 12); and Noami Klein’s article in The Intercept (Jan. 11).

Contrast the New York divestment announcements with the continued fossil fuel investment of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), revealed in two new reports.  In early December, Friends of the Earth Canada, as part of its ongoing campaign,  released  Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance, and Urgewald, a German organization, released Investors vs. the Paris Agreement.  The two reports “present a compelling picture of entrenched investors holding onto the old dirty economy and its growing risks at a time when politicians are committing to the phase out of coal.” – specifically, the Powering Past Coal Alliance launched by Canada and Great Britain at COP23 in Bonn in 2017.  The Powering Past Coal Declaration commits governments to phasing out existing traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage, and commits all partners to supporting clean power through their policies and investments, as well as restricting financing for traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage. In an October 2017  press release,  Friends of the Earth representatives asked, “Why is the CPPIB ignoring government policy and undermining Canada’s diplomatic efforts to lead a global phase-out of coal?” . To date, there has been no public statement adjusting  the Sustainable Investing position of the CPPIB to bring it in line with the Powering Past Coal Alliance Declaration.

Canadian Coal Investment: Powering Past the Coal Alliance calculates the CPPIB’s total investment in coal at $12.2 billion Cdn., with $267 million of that in new coal projects . In a global ranking in Investors vs. the Paris Agreement, Urgewald found that Canada is the 8th largest investor in new coal development, and names several Canadian institutions in its Top 100 Investors list, including SunLife  (ranked #31 with $895 million invested); Power Financial Corporation (#53 with $631 million invested); Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ( #71 with $433 million invested); Royal Bank (#86 with $356 million invested); and Manulife Financial ( #98 with $282 million invested).

Also of interest:  “Failure to Launch” in Corporate Knights  magazine (Jan. 15 2018), which provides a serious discussion of the problems of pension plan regulation as the answer to its tagline question: “Why are Canadian pension funds dragging their feet when it comes to climate change?”

 

 

A Roadmap for more energy efficient large buildings in Canada

Roadmap infographic

From http://www.cagbc.org/retrofitroadmap, the website of the Canada Green Building Council

The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has released  a new report which makes recommendations for retrofitting  large buildings as a means to achieving significant  reductions in  GHG emissions by 2030. The Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada  report  builds on a 2016 document by CaGBC, Building Solutions to Climate Change: How Green Buildings Can Help Meet Canada’s 2030 Emissions Targets .

The Roadmap  report begins with analysis of the carbon reduction potential of large buildings in Canada,  based on the factors of size, age, energy source, regional electrical grid, and building type. The analysis was conducted by Montreal consultancy WSP.  Some conclusions may seem obvious – for  example, despite its relatively clean energy grid, Ontario contributes  the greatest emissions from buildings because of the concentration of  large buildings  and the reliance on natural gas for heating and hot water. The level of detail of the analysis, however, reveals more surprising observations , for example: “In all provinces, the “other” asset class category represents the largest opportunity for carbon emissions reductions. This asset class includes warehouses, entertainment venues, leisure and recreation buildings, shopping centres, and colleges and universities.”

CaGBC’s Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada  presents its recommendations for action, clustered in 4 categories, ( in order of their magnitude of impact):

  1. Recommission buildings that have yet to achieve high performance status by optimizing existing building systems for improved control and operational performance;
  2. Undertake deep retrofits in buildings to high-performance standards such as LEED, focusing on energy reduction and ensuring that key building systems such as lighting, HVAC and envelopes are upgraded.  Most impact will come from deep retrofits in  buildings over 35 years old, and in buildings using electric resistance heating systems in regions with carbon-intensive electricity grids (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). Retail buildings are highlighted as an important sector .
  3. Switch to low carbon fuel sources in 20% of buildings over 35 years old in all regions; and
  4. Incorporate solar or other on-site renewable energy systems. The report states that this action would bring the highest carbon emissions reductions in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It would  also be most impactful for  buildings with large roof-to–floor space ratios, such as retail, education and institutional buildings.

The Roadmap report concludes with public policy recommendations for the building sector, including: Canada’s future retrofit code should include a GHG metric along with energy thresholds; each province should develop its own unique roadmap for retrofits, to target areas where investments can yield the highest economic and environmental benefits; and the federal  Low Carbon Economy Fund and future public funding programs should make use of a “roadmap” model.  The federal government is expected to announce policy measures this Fall – see “Federal Government eyes energy retrofits in buildings” in the Globe and Mail. For an excellent summary of the Roadmap report, see “Deep retrofits, ‘recommissioning’ could meet climate targets on their own” (Sept. 22) from  the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) .

In related news, on September 14,  New York Mayor De Blasio proposed what he characterized as a pioneering plan to force landlords to retrofit older, larger commercial and institutional buildings in NYC.   “De Blasio Vows to Cut Emissions in New York’s Larger Buildings”  in the New York Times (Sept. 14) states that  the proposals are only sketched out and are just beginning to search for political allies.  An article in Inside Climate News summarizes the issue of energy efficiency building codes in the U.S., and briefly describes initiatives in the cities of New York, Seattle, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.