By Casey Edge
Canadian public and our planet need effective climate action and housing affordabilityCanadian Contractor
We're missing the Big Picture on GHG’s and home buyers are paying the price
In a January 4, 2019 National Post column, “How the Liberal carbon tax is not unlike a $2,000 cat door,” popular commentator Rex Murphy summed up the political posturing in many of today’s climate change initiatives. “There is no folly too abject, no absurdity too lavish, no pretense too hollow, not to serve as a flag for superior environmental ‘concern.’”
There is a disturbing lack of real information regarding climate change and Canada’s CO2 contribution in local climate action plans and by politicians in general. This contributes to ineffective 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 the VRBA strongly advocates conserving energy, recycling, and acting responsibly. Basic conservation practices like turning down the thermostat and improving gas boilers have resulted in significant energy savings in Britain.
Critical GHG information is omitted in policy and reports
I know VRBA’s members build reasonably energy efficient new homes and many are certified under programs like Built Green. They attend education seminars and stay up-to-date on the latest technology and practices. However, climate plans and policies by government rarely reflect this reality. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to omit important information such as major global sources of CO2.
For example, missing in these plans is Canada’s global CO2 contribution – 1.6%. In addition, there is no mention that six countries comprise 60 per cent of global CO2 emissions – China, USA, India, Russia, Japan, Germany. Many of these countries are also top consumers of coal – the source of approximately 70 per cent of China’s energy. Hundreds of new coal power plants are under construction.
Again Rex Murphy nails it: “Whatever minuscule impact some so-called carbon tax will have on the entire planet’s atmospheric emissions will be utterly outpaced and negated by the vastly more massive economies that are going the opposite way. What is the point of freezing the Alberta economy so that China and India and half the world besides can start coal plants by the dozen every month and ‘pollute’ to their heart’s price-free content?”
Using a flame thrower to kill an ant?
I have yet to see the facts about global emissions appear in any municipal climate plans. Instead, the public is misled into believing that reducing one or two air changes in a new Canadian home will have an impact on climate change. Prime Minister Trudeau recently admitted, “Even if Canada stopped everything tomorrow and the other countries didn’t have any solutions, it wouldn’t make a big difference.” This conflicts with claims by some local politicians claiming “We can have a significant impact on climate change at the regional level…”
The very serious issue of climate change is being used to justify anti-development policies obstructing housing supply and raising costs. “Climate emergency” is used as a justification for proposing a moratorium on cutting trees despite existing, strong tree protection bylaws and other environmental regulations. Adding more regulations in the urban containment zone intended for housing raises the question: If housing is further choked in these zones, where will it go?
B.C.’s Step Code undermines better energy-efficiency initiatives
Another example of regulatory manipulation is BC’s Energy Step Code fast-tracking marginal improvements to energy efficiency in new homes at great cost while ignoring thousands of older homes generating vastly larger amounts of GHGs. Ironically, this undermines the Built Green program that offers, in addition to affordable energy efficiency, protection of local assets like water conservation, recycling and the natural environment. Municipalities appear to have no understanding they are compromising real local environmental assets in favour of a risky program offering negligible benefit.
Instead of Step Code, a municipality in Greater Victoria could implement a renovation tax credit up to $1,000 on a maximum $10,000 energy-saving retrofit. The cost to retrofit every single detached home in their area, saving 10 to 40 air changes per hour, would be $22 million, less than the municipality’s posted surplus of $55 million, much of it from new housing revenue.
Municipalities often use selective data in their climate plans such as Victoria’s omission of GHG’s from idling cruise ships in Canada’s busiest port of call. Mayor Lisa Helps says cruise ships and tourism are important to the local economy.
But so is home building, providing skilled jobs for youth and revitalizing the city. Yet in Victoria’s climate strategy, new homes are targeted in a plan to make already energy-efficient new homes more efficient without detailing the real costs in one of the highest priced markets in North America.
Domestic material producers are penalized while imports prosper
While it may be hard for some to hear, Trudeau’s admission 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. 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 creating billions of tonnes of capacity, and accounting for 60% of global production. In contrast, Canada’s relatively small cement industry, with a capacity of less than 20 million tonnes, operates in a more stringent regulatory environment, and is under competitive pressure from imported cement. Since Canada’s carbon tax was introduced in 2008, the BC cement industry has lost market share to imported cement – the major global CO2 contributors. B.C. cement producers should be entitled to not just a level playing field, but an advantaged playing field by penalizing the big global emitters.
Policy should better reflect the Big Picture
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 contributors to GHG’s? Climate change must be recognized as a global issue requiring global solutions, while local municipalities must act responsibly with balance and affordability. Presently the political posturing in climate plans and in our building codes undermines housing affordability for young families.
Unlike 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 fact and deliver both realistic climate action and housing affordability in the interests of the public and the planet.
Casey Edge is CEO of the Victoria Residential Builders Association and a passionate advocate for the home building industry in Canada.