There is a disturbing lack of real information regarding climate change and Canada’s CO2 contribution in local Climate Action plans and by local politicians. This contributes to ineffective municipal policies and regulations claiming to combat climate change while actually feeding the unaffordable housing crisis.
Of course climate change is a very real challenge, and VRBA strongly advocates conserving energy, recycling, and acting responsibly. Basic conservation practices like turning down the thermostat and improved gas boilers have resulted in energy use reduction in Britain.
Many VRBA builders are certified under the Built Green program and attend education seminars to stay up-to-date on the latest technology and practices.
But we also need public statements and policies by government reflecting accurate information, global sources of CO2, and effective strategies to mitigate climate change.
For example, there is no mention in the Climate Action plans in Saanich, CRD or Victoria of Canada’s global CO2 contribution – 1.6%. In addition, there is no mention that six countries comprise 60% of global CO2 emissions – China, USA, India, Russia, Japan, Germany. Many are also top consumers of coal – the source of approximately 70% of China’s energy.
Saanich’s Climate Action plan says “China is on track to meet its 2020 climate targets…” That’s highly questionable. Not mentioned are the hundreds of new coal-fired powered stations under construction in China, nor the fact that China produces 60% of the world’s cement, which Canada imports without the carbon tax applied to BC producers.
Prime Minister Trudeau recently said, “Even if Canada stopped everything tomorrow and the other countries didn’t have any solutions, it wouldn’t make a big difference.”
The very serious issue of climate change is being used to justify anti-development policies obstructing housing supply and raising costs. In Saanich, “climate emergency” was used as justification for proposing a “moratorium on cutting trees” despite strong, existing tree protection bylaws and other environmental regulations. Adding more regulations in the urban containment boundary intended for housing raises the question: If housing is further choked in the UCB, where will it go? The UCB also protects green spaces beyond the UCB, also important for climate change mitigation.
Another example is the recently adopted Step Code bylaw in Saanich and Victoria that fast-tracks marginal improvements to energy efficiency in new homes at great cost while ignoring the thousands of older homes generating the vastly larger amount of GHGs. In addition, the municipalities circumvented the diligence of Canada’s National Building Code committee working on new energy efficiency standards expected in 2020. Saanich added greater liability risk to the municipality and thousands of dollars to housing costs for negligible benefit and without national diligence.
A more effective Climate Action strategy is a renovation tax credit, very popular with homeowners as evidenced by the national tax credit a few years ago. According to the 2016 census, there are about 46,000 homes in Saanich of which half are single detached. If Saanich offered a renovation tax credit up to $1,000 on a maximum $10,000 energy-saving retrofit, the cost would be $46 million to retrofit every home, significantly reducing GHGs in older stock with 10 to 40 air changes per hour. Doing only single detached homes would cost $22 million, less than Saanich’s surplus of $30 million in 2017 and only 2.3% of Saanich’s total surplus of almost $1 billion.
So rather than reduce significant GHG’s in the majority of Saanich’s older homes by saving 10 – 40 air changes per hour per home at a cost of 4.7% (for all homes) of their surplus, Saanich council chose to increase the cost of a sliver of new homes by $10,000 to $20,000 to save 1 air change per hour. These are the same elected officials expressing concern over a “climate emergency.”
Also, Saanich’s report on DCC’s says “These new regulations (Step Code) surpass the need for a DCC waivers bylaw as an incentive to developers for building green development.” Except replacing the affordable Built Green program with Step Code undermines water conservation, recycling, and preservation of the natural environment assets supported in Built Green, not in Step Code. Step Code covers only energy efficiency with no certification. Built Green also covers energy efficiency with certification. Water conservation, recycling, and preservation of the natural environment all have a real immediate impact on the municipality. Whereas, a marginal increase to energy efficiency in new homes has zero impact on climate change. Most GHGs are from older homes, and as mentioned earlier, local initiatives won’t make a dent in the majority of GHGs from other countries relying on coal. Canada’s entire GHG contribution = 1.6%. It’s likely municipal councillors have little understanding of these issues while they add to the cost of new housing and undermine their own stated goals of environment protection.
Natural Resources Canada recently discovered BC’s Step Code has distorted metrics where the owner of a Step 2 home in Victoria may cost more and be more energy efficient than a Step 3 home in Nanaimo. This is why building code standards should not be left to municipal councillors, and should wait for National Code diligence.
Another initiative obstructing new housing is expected in Spring 2019 – reinstatement of the Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw (EDPA) rescinded last year due to unfairness to property owners. Many residents rejected EDPA claims that their front lawns, mowed for decades, were actually rare biological ecosystems.
The EDPA prevented development of new homes and even renovations. Saanich is considering re-implementation of this junk science and no doubt part of the reason is a “climate emergency” on which the EDPA regulation will have zero impact. Not mentioned in Saanich’s Climate Action plan is the regional park system has grown from just over 8400 hectares in 2000 to over 13,000 hectares in 2017. The CRD says their “growing park system helps protect the environment and biodiversity in the region, and provides residents with opportunities to connect with nature through outdoor recreation.” This is a far better option than the EDPA’s regulatory expropriation of residents’ front yards .
There is selective data and a lack of transparency in many local Climate Action plans. There is no mention in Victoria’s Climate Action plan to address GHG’s from idling cruise ships in “Canada’s busiest cruise ship port of call” described by the National Post. Mayor Lisa Helps says cruise ships and tourism are important to the “local economy.”
But so is homebuilding, providing skilled jobs for youth and impacting all BC municipalities. Yet Victoria’s Climate Action plan targets already energy-efficient new homes without detailing the real costs on the mortgages of homebuyers in one of the highest priced markets in North America.
While it may be hard for some to hear, Prime Minister Trudeau’s view is correct. If Canada cannot have a significant impact on climate change at the national level, local politicians must recognize their limitations. Statements to the contrary and the omission of major global CO2 sources from public documents, lack transparency and mislead the public.
They distract from areas of real potential impact – such as supporting senior levels of government through municipal organizations like UBCM and FCM to influence the big emitters to behave more responsibly. For example, there is a carbon tax on Canadian cement producers, but no such tax on cement from the USA and China – two of the world’s largest contributors to CO2.
China is the largest producer of cement, an energy-intense industry, creating billions of tonnes of capacity, and accounting for 60% of global production. In contrast, Canada’s relatively small cement industry operates in a more stringent regulatory environment, and is under competitive pressure from imported cement. According to Concrete BC, Canada’s production has declined to 13 million tonnes since the carbon tax was introduced in 2008, while imports from major global CO2 contributors have increased 20%. If a carbon tax is applied, why only on Canadian producers operating in a more regulated environment? Canadian producers should be entitled to do business on a level playing field.
If we want to have an impact on climate change, and avoid eroding our economy, why are local, provincial and federal governments not focused on the biggest global contributors to GHG’s? Climate change must be recognized as a global issue requiring global solutions, while local municipalities act responsibly with effectiveness, balance and affordability. In a recent declaration of a “climate emergency” only CRD Director/Metchosin Mayor John Ranns expressed concern regarding local costs and that it is a global issues. The Times Colonist reports:
“‘This initiative has implied but unidentified costs,’ said Ranns, a member of the committee. Regardless of what is done regionally, he added, ‘this is a global issue and unless China and India stop building coal plants, all of the implied costs are going to be there, anyway.'”
“Ranns said it is incumbent on directors to ensure ‘that this isn’t just a licence to spend more government money like we seem to be very prone to do.'”
That said, if the government is planning to spend money, and wants a local impact, a retrofit tax credit would be a good start. Rather than pass regulations against new housing, they should dip into their significant surpluses outlined in a recent CD Howe Institute report. Saanich would have to agree to spend 4.7% of its surplus for all homes (2.3% for just single detached) – not a big ask from a municipality dedicated to addressing the climate emergency.
The fact is many local Climate Action plans and political declarations avoid the real global issues and are instead being used to discourage new local housing thereby increasing the cost of homes for young families.
Unlike global climate change, housing affordability is a crisis over which local governments do have significant control through zoning, permit efficiency, regulations and fees.
It is time to recognize this and deliver real climate data and effective action to mitigate climate change, in the interests of the public, the planet and housing affordability.