En Route to Paris: Buildings Responsible for 25% of Canada’s Emissions – It’s time for Energy Efficiency

Guest blog post by Julia Langer, CEO, Toronto Atmospheric Fund

Disclaimer: the views expressed in the following blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation.
We live in them, we work in them, we play in them. We heat them and cool them, we plug in our many appliances, run elevators, pump the water in and out. So it shouldn’t be surprising that one-quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from buildings, about the same amount as those now produced from Canada’s oil and gas sector. If we expect to avoid dangerous climate change, dramatically improving the energy performance of our buildings is vital.
Commercial, multi-unit residential and institutional buildings comprise about a billion square metres of floor space, consume nearly 2,000 PJ of energy (about a fifth of total secondary energy use Canada-wide) at a cost of over $35 billion annually. Large residential buildings alone represent 10 percent of the energy load and GHG emissions in urban centres. Numerous studies show that energy use in existing buildings can be reduced by 25-40 percent, cost-effectively, with existing technology. That’s why our focus at Toronto Atmospheric Fund (the first municipal climate agency in the world) is on accelerating efficiency retrofits of larger buildings.
So why is so much energy and money being wasted only to contribute to climate change and air pollution? Why have relatively few of Canada’s large buildings been retrofitted? The reality is that there are persistent structural barriers that need to be addressed in order to scale-up investment in this space. These include the relatively low cost of energy (especially natural gas, which is used for space heating and is the main source of a building’s emissions) and lack of motivation from landlords who have little incentive to improve energy efficiency because tenants pay the energy costs. Also, unfortunately, experiences with badly-managed retrofits has undermined confidence in achieving projected energy savings and generating a return on investment.
Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) has a multi-faceted program to address the barriers and stimulate retrofit activity.
By actually implementing deep efficiency retrofits, monitoring and quantifying the savings, and documenting the technical and business case, we are demonstrating the viability and value proposition for building owners, for cities and citizens (such as local employment and economic benefits), and for the planet.
Retrofits do yield excellent returns, but building owners don’t have the confidence to borrow or invest their capital. In response, TAF has developed several innovative financing tools to bridge the gap: TAF’s unique, non-debt Energy Savings Performance Agreement (ESPA); property-assessed financing that ties retrofit loans to the home not the home-owner which is being piloted in Toronto, such as the Home Energy Loan Program, and the Green Condo Loan which facilitates better-than-code new construction. The key is to create attractive investment opportunities and mobilize private capital into this low-carbon space.
With the clock ticking towards Toronto’s ambitious target of reducing GHGs 30 percent by 2020 – still eight percent to go – some game-changing actions are needed to ramp up the business case for energy efficiency. Toronto and Ontario will soon join leading US and European cities in requiring annual Energy Reporting and Benchmarking, and TAF has also advocated much stronger efficiency standards for energy-using equipment such as boilers, motors and lighting.
As world leaders step up to commit to international targets this December in Paris, they will need to acknowledge and mobilize cities in order to implement solutions fast enough to meet the urgency of climate change. This December at the COP21 summit, when the spotlight shines on international agreements, we have an excellent opportunity to highlight the role of cities and to champion the great work already being done by mayors and municipalities around the world.
This blog is part of the En Route to Paris series. In preparation for the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) taking place in Paris this December, we created a series that showcases Canada-wide initiatives promoting a low-carbon economy. The En Route to Paris series posts will expose the views of experts who collaborate with us in our initiatives focused on ‘Energy and the Economy.’ Our goal is to support initiatives geared towards transforming the discourse on climate to illustrate all the benefits of sustainable development.
Click here to view other posts in the series