Metro Vancouver looks to curb GHG emissions from large buildings

Getting older buildings off natural gas would be “the single biggest change” Metro Vancouver could make to meet its own net-zero-goals.

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Metro Vancouver has set its climate sights on large commercial buildings as it tries to get a better control of greenhouse gas emissions.

Large commercial buildings make up just two per cent of building stock in the region but account for 35 per cent of their GHG emissions.

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And those emissions are on the rise, up 10 per cent, to 2.4 million tonnes, last year from a stable 2.3 million tonnes from 2019 through 2021, according to Metro Vancouver reporting.

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That trend makes it “clear that stronger action is needed to achieve the climate targets that the Metro Vancouver board has adopted and, in fact, all levels of government have adopted,” said Erik Blair, a senior planner with Metro’s air quality and climate action services group.

So the regional district is leaning on its responsibility to regulate air quality to set requirements for existing large commercial buildings — those more than 25,000 square feet — to meet emission-reduction targets, which it has been working on since 2022 starting with industry consultations.

On Thursday, Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee will receive a report that outlines progress toward writing those regulations, which would start with a requirement for building owners to report annually on GHG emissions, then meet phased in limits to reach net-zero by 2050.

“We haven’t yet finalized the detailed approach that we would like to bring to a subsequent meeting,” Blair said.

From the industry’s perspective, building owners hope the effort will result in consistent rules between jurisdictions, said Damian Stathonikos, president of the Building Owner and Managers Association.

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The City of Vancouver, which has its own authority under the Vancouver Charter, “has been leading the way,” on the GHG front, “so I think there’s a lot that Metro can learn from the work Vancouver’s already done,” Stathonikos added.

Earlier this year, the province adopted its Energy Step Code, which requires that new space and water-heating in buildings be 100-per-cent efficient after 2030. So, powered by electric heat pumps not natural gas.

That still leaves “a gap in addressing emissions from the larger pool of existing buildings” that Metro Vancouver is aiming to close as it tries to achieve its own GHG target of reducing emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 emissions by 2030.

“The single biggest change to get to zero-emissions buildings is to transition the heating and cooling systems to electric heat pumps or clean, renewable district energy,” Blair said.

And there is no requirement for buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

But even if there is no requirement, Stathonikos said building owners face their own pressures to hit net-zero targets in their buildings, whether it’s from the environmental, social and governance objectives of corporate owners to conditions on borrowing.

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“Most of our members are looking at this as a no-brainer,” Stathonikos said. “Tenants are asking for it, financial institutions are starting to require it from an ESG perspective.”

Owners “just want to know, OK, what are the targets, what are the timelines,” Stathonikos said. But they also want targets and timelines to take into account some of the physical limits those owners face.

For instance, if a building owner is retrofitting a heating system, but B.C. Hydro doesn’t yet have the capacity to supply all the electricity heat pumps it needs, they be allowed to maintain a natural gas connection to use renewable gas.

“The market right now is a little uncertain with everything that is going on,” Stathonikos said. “Interest rates are high, so if you’re looking to do capital projects, you need to really know how much it’s going to cost.”

Blair said Metro Vancouver will continue to consult with the industry as it refines its work and will make sure what comes out of the process is aligned with the City of Vancouver’s regulations.

[email protected]

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