Windfall Article

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Here are Five Key Takeaways from Toronto's Net-Zero Existing Buildings Strategy

by Lolade Odeyemi

It is no news that climate change is a persisting challenge plaguing Canada and the rest of the world, but its impact has continued to deal shocking blows. These impacts are far-reaching, and the need to consistently devise tactical measures to reverse the ruins it has left in its wake, as well as forestall impending doom, is of dire importance. To this end, Canada is doggedly pursuing a nationwide 'net-zero emission by 2050' goal. The City of Toronto has aligned with this mission with its target to record citywide net-zero emissions by reducing existing buildings' Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions over the next 30 years.

To achieve the objective above, the City has designed a detailed roadmap with strategic routes to decarbonizing buildings riding on the ingenuity of an expert team from Windfall Centre, the Integral Group, WSP, and Reep Green Solutions. The roadmap contained in a recently released report is crucial to achieving the City of Toronto's TransformTO goal to reduce community-wide GHG emissions to net-zero by 2050 or possibly sooner. Here are five significant highlights from this report;

1. Reducing Emissions from Energy Use – A Focus on Buildings

Today, energy use in buildings (residential, commercial and institutional structures) accounts for more than half of Toronto's Green House Gas emissions at a staggering 55% of the City's total emissions. According to statistics, multi-unit residential buildings contribute 29% of building emissions, 31% come from single-family homes, 17% from large commercial and institutional buildings, and 23% from smaller commercial and industrial buildings. While the Toronto Green Standard already targets reducing emissions to the bare minimum in new building projects through established development guidelines, the City of Toronto has its sight on existing buildings with its net-zero emission strategy. Accordingly, the City will adopt and implement an array of building-level retrofit measures to rein in building emissions from now through to the 2050 timeline. Also, the strategy underscores nine key policy actions to guide the City's retrofitting undertakings that will benefit all building owners, and they are;

  • Create impactful awareness to enlighten home and building owners on the benefit of retrofit investments.
  • Actively engage other levels of government on the required changes to make retrofit a worthwhile investment for building owners.
  • Drive capacity building for home and building owners to effectively improve their energy and emissions performance
  • Mandate annual reporting and progress updates to keep all stakeholders abreast of Toronto's homes and buildings performance.
  • Establish emissions performance requirements that will uncover sectors specific challenges that require attention.
  • Set aside funding to boost the amount of capital available to home and building owners for deep emissions retrofits.
  • Provide supports to simplify processes and reduce costs and time associated with building retrofits.
  • Modify permission and approvals processes for deep emissions retrofits to motivate building owners.
  • Focus on workforce development and training to secure the required capacity to meet the growing demand for deep emissions retrofits.

2. Engaging Major Stakeholders in the Building Sector

"There is strength in numbers, yes, but even more so in collective goodwill."- Richelle E. Goodrich. The City of Toronto has made a giant leap with a well-thought-out plan for an emission-free by 2050, which could mark a pivotal moment in the City's climate action expedition. However, the City can only achieve this by collaborating with concerned stakeholders and prominent players such as the government(at all levels), regulatory bodies, industry associations, industry members, City staff, financial institutions, trade unions, and home and building owners. The first point of call is defining the role of all stakeholders and providing them with the required information and possible support to play their parts in achieving the collective goal of deep emissions reductions in the existing buildings market.

3. Employment Opportunities through Net-zero Building Emission Strategy Implementation

Executing the Net-Zero Existing Buildings plan will require a significant amount of human labour in different capacities; by implication, create more jobs in the City of Toronto's labour market. According to the City of Toronto's report, implementing the Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy is expected to bump up local building retrofit economic activity by an impressive 87% to the tune of $302 billion from $162 billion over the next 30 years. With this, the labour market is poised to witness an additional 7,000 direct, full-time jobs in local construction, energy services, and supportive work through the duration of net-zero emission plan execution. Also, an estimated near double annual investment in existing buildings from $5.4 billion per year to $10 billion is an expected upshot from the City's plan. This is undoubtedly a win-win situation for the City, driving growth in two sectors with one strategy! Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

4. Financial Aid and Partnerships

The plan to reduce emissions from energy consumption in buildings is a step in the right direction, albeit an expensive one. A considerable cost implication accompanies a project of such magnitude that involves renovating and retrofitting almost every building in the City at a pace realistic enough to accomplish the goal by 2050. Given the circumstance, the City will require financial backing and co-investment of all levels of government and the private sector. Furthermore, the City will leverage existing programs and initiatives as a boost to financial support. Some of these programs are; the Mayor's Green Will Initiative, Energy Retrofit Loans, Navigation and Support Services, the High-Rise Retrofit Improvement Support Program, Home Energy Loan Program, and BetterHomesTO. Innovative partnerships, funding, and other support from financial institutions, industry associations, industry consultants, educational bodies, trades unions, realtors, along with willing and capable home and building owners, will further steer the transformation to success.

5. A Sustained Momentum Beyond 2050

Climate change comes with severe ripple effects on the economy and the environment; thus, the City of Toronto would not rest on its oars in maintaining the status quo of an emission-free building sector even beyond the 2050 timeline. This would mean a sustained drive not only to reduce building emissions but to maintain a system of conducting periodic checks and audits to access the state of the sector.

So, the countdown to 2050 is officially on as the City of Toronto focuses on executing its strategy. Although it is unclear what the future holds for the City's net-zero building strategy, strict adherence to the plan will positively impact the City and Canada's overall emission index, moving the country a step closer to achieving national net-zero emissions.