Why Doesn’t Canada Have a National Retrofit Program Already?

In 1906, American philosopher William James coined the phrase “the moral equivalent of war” in referring to the problem of sustaining political unity and resolve in the absence of war. U.S. President Jimmy Carter used the phrase in his famous energy crisis speech of 1977 to describe what it was going to take to respond to the security threat posed by the OPEC oil embargo. Now, another half century later, there are increasing calls for wartime levels of mobilization to respond to the climate crisis.

The war against climate change is a global war. It has many fronts, and we must succeed on all of them before we can claim victory.  Retrofitting our buildings to be zero emission and climate resilient represents one of those fronts. We cannot win the war on climate change without transforming our homes and workplaces to be zero emission buildings, and we will not get that done the way we are doing it now. We need a national mission to stop burning oil and gas in buildings while simultaneously doubling their efficiency, improving the comfort and air quality they provide, and reducing their aggregate electricity consumption. And it must be done quickly, within a generation.

Progress in building technologies and innovations in the highly efficient application of electricity for the provision of heat and other energy services offer a pathway to a decarbonized, electrified building sector in which fossil fuels are phased out and total electricity consumption is significantly reduced. It is a capital-intensive path, but well within the range of routine expenditures on building renovations, repairs, and energy. It requires the type of innovative financing that has allowed other capital-intensive initiatives, such as the fuel and electricity supply system itself, to proceed in ways that minimize the upfront investment, inconvenience, and risk to building owners and occupants.

Brendan Haley of Efficiency Canada and I have written a report that can be read as a battle plan for winning on the retrofit front. The relation between the way we are doing retrofits now and what Brendan and I are proposing is a bit like the relation between the French Resistance and the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II. Seeing and realizing the opportunity requires thinking “outside the box” and taking an integrated whole-system approach to design, policy, and business strategies and management systems that result in high quality retrofits being carried out thousands at a time and starting soon. This is the front in the war against climate change that will quite literally engage every household, every business, and every institution in the nation.

It has been two years since the Government of Canada declared climate change to be an emergency. The response to the pandemic has shown us what an emergency response looks like and what we are capable of when we work together to face down a crisis. A national mission to transform our buildings is what we need now to mount a truly effective response to the climate emergency.

There are of course limits to the war analogy when it comes to climate change. Nature is not our enemy but an independent power with which there can be no negotiation. It is not war we need, but the moral equivalent, not conflict but reconciliation. We need to wage peace as if there was no tomorrow.

We Need to Accelerate Canada’s Green Recovery

What would happen if Canada’s major cities prioritized a green recovery in response to COVID-19? Their investments could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds by 2030, create over 2.9 million jobs, and reduce air pollution by 32%, preventing 3,950 premature deaths over the next decade. Read more

Vancouver’s Big Moves for Climate Action

Like many other large cities in Canada, Vancouver declared a climate emergency in 2019. Its Climate Emergency Response soon followed, with six targets—or “Big Moves”—to tackle emissions related to transportation and transit, heating and hot water systems, buildings and new construction, and carbon sequestration for local ecosystem restoration.

The overall goal? To cut carbon pollution by half by 2030.  Read more

Ottawa’s Ambitious Energy Evolution

In 2019, Ottawa City Council joined cities around the world in declaring a climate emergency and committed to reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. Today, City Council unanimously passed Energy Evolutionits plan for achieving that goal. Read more

Enabling Low-Carbon Cities: The Role of Energy + Emissions Modelling

As an affiliate event to the Global Climate Action Summit held in September 2018 in San Francisco, Sustainability Solutions Group hosted a one-day symposium on modelling energy use and greenhouse gas emissions mitigation in cities. Read more

Day 1 at the IPCC Cities & Climate Change Science Conference

The day started with the sun beaming in through a wall of glass looking out over Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The discourse on cities was hopeful- tinged with periods of critical thought and realism. Presenters, including the Mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson, talked about the need to track consumption-based GHG emissions; but the mechanisms that cities require to influence consumption of their citizens are both politically and legally limited. Many speakers talked about green jobs and low-carbon cities as engines of economic growth and development, while others reflected that economic development itself is the source of GHG emissions. Irrespective of the pathway forward, there is no question that the role of local governments and cities is gaining prominence and an increasing focus of UN agencies and other entities in the world; if cities can’t dramatically bend the curve, then there is no way that the world will achieve the necessary reductions of 1.5 degrees. Mayor Iveson emphasised this point with a story about UNFCCC COP 13 in indonesia; as a deputy mayor his option was to represent a non-profit organisation at a side event of a side event. Luckily, times have changed: urban areas are now a primary focus with an IPCC focussed conference on cities. Read more

SSG at IPCC Cities & Climate Change Conference

SSG directors, Yuill Herbert, and Jeremy Murphy, will be in Edmonton at the IPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference: Fostering new scientific knowledge for cities based on science, practice and policy, this March 5-7th. Sustainability Solutions Group is proud to be a silver sponsor of this conference. Read more

Toronto City Council Unanimously Adopts TransformTO

View the TransformTO report.

Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) is pleased to announce that our latest report, TransformTO: Climate Action for a Healthy, Equitable, Prosperous Toronto (Results of Modelling Greenhouse Gas Emissions to 2050), was adopted, unanimously, by Toronto City Council today.

TransformTO is a community-wide, cross-corporate initiative of the City of Toronto and The Toronto Atmospheric Fund. It was designed to engage residents, other stakeholders, experts, and all City operations in identifying ways to reduce Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 30 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050, against 1990 levels.

SSG and whatIf? Technologies worked with city staff, stakeholders and community members to develop a pathway to achieve 80% emissions reductions by 2050 using currently available technologies. The process involved the development of future scenarios, spatial modelling, analysis of co-benefits and co-harms for the scenarios as well as community input. Opportunities for collaborative and sustained emissions reduction efforts by the City of Toronto, the private sector, higher levels of government, and Toronto residents are included in the report.

“This project clearly demonstrates that a low carbon future for Toronto is viable using current technologies,” said SSG Director and project lead Yuill Herbert. “We also determined that such a future has many benefits to public health, stimulating local economic development and employment opportunities, and addressing poverty, if actions are thoughtfully executed.”

SSG’s and whatIf? Technologies’ CityInSight energy, emissions and finance model was key to the analysis. CityInSight incorporates the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC), a standard that enables emissions comparability between cities globally. The model creates and compares land-use scenarios that assess varying considerations for transportation, building types and densities, energy use, energy production systems, liquid and solid waste production and treatments, infrastructure, and all associated costs and paybacks, in order to assess what emissions reduction actions are possible and what should be prioritized.

Two scenarios were defined for the project: Business as Planned (BAP) and Low Carbon Scenario (LCS). The BAP scenario explored projected energy and emissions levels for the city under current and planned policies and actions by municipal, provincial and federal governments. The LCS explored additional actions options that, if taken, will achieve Toronto’s emissions reduction targets.

Council’s adoption of the TransformTO report signals the ambition of Canada’s largest city in taking the lead on climate change mitigation through critical emissions reduction actions – actions that will also improve the quality of life of Toronto’s residents. 

For more information on TransformTO, and to download the full report, please visit: ssg.coop/transformto
SSG Contacts

Yuill Herbert

TransformTO Project Lead                    

1.250.213.9029

yuill@ssg.coop

Naomi Devine

SSG Communications Director

1.778.676.7041

naomi@ssg.coop

 

Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG) is a climate change and sustainable communities consultancy with offices across Canada. We’re a cooperative of critical, creative thinkers who collaborate with cities, communities, and institutions to address some of society’s most pressing challenges: climate change, energy and emissions planning, sustainable development, public health, and democratic engagement. Over the past fifteen years we have worked with over 40 municipalities in Canada to help them build and plan for low-carbon, economically vibrant, and sustainable communities.

whatIf? Technologies was founded in 1989 by Robert Hoffman and Bert McInnis – to build upon their pioneering work in socio-economic modelling and simulation at Statistics Canada – and by software architect Michael Hoffman (current CEO). Over the last 25 years the firm has established itself as a leader in developing computer-based simulation models for strategic planning and scenario analysis. whatIf has successfully delivered modelling projects in urban and regional planning, energy systems, transportation, and long-term physical economic systems.