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Build Local Capacity, Energy Democracy, Report Card Urges Ottawa

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Canada still has a lot of work to do to establish scientific carbon reduction targets aligned with the Paris agreement, align infrastructure spending with its low-carbon targets, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and build local energy democracy, the Vancouver-based Columbia Institute concludes in a report card issued in Ottawa earlier this week.

The report card assesses progress on 18 federal and 24 provincial/territorial policies the Institute released last year, with the twin goals of promoting climate action and ramping up low-carbon communities. The policies fall into five categories, Executive Director Charley Beresford told The Energy Mix in an interview: Capacity-building, smart growth, local energy and energy democracy, buildings, and transportation.

“Local governments, which directly and indirectly influence more than 50% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, are taking climate leadership in communities across the country,” the report card notes. But that activity depends on local capacity that the more senior levels of government must nurture through a three-step process, Columbia notes: Commitment, funding, and implementation.

The report card cites five areas where the last year has seen concrete action: a national carbon price, funding for local capacity-building, a cash infusion for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Partners for Climate Protection Program, a national transportation strategy, and matching provincial/territorial transit funding to local governments. Columbia also tracks some progress on funding for community- and Indigenous-owned renewables capacity, shifting building codes to promote zero-energy buildings and renewable power, and energy retrofit incentives.

Beresford pointed to her home province as an example of a jurisdiction that requires municipalities to set greenhouse gas reduction targets (though there’s no penalty for failing to meet them). Local leaders “are eager to get their carbon tax dollars back, and to do that, they have to sign on to the pledge and report out on their emissions,” she said.

“That kind of framework is very important to help move things along.”

The report card also highlights the need for a more consistent approach to building energy retrofits, including the multi-unit residences that account for 50% of the sector’s emissions, Beresford said. “They need to be deeper retrofits, and they need to be more effective,” she said, noting that retrofit incentive programs typically only attract 3-5% of eligible structures.

She cited a program in Nelson, B.C., where the municipally-owned utility set up a capital pool to support building retrofits. So far, 400 out of 10,000 local homeowners have expressed interest, 300 have had their buildings assessed, 200 have taken action, and 40 have taken advantage of available loans. While it’ll take time for Nelson’s numbers to build, she said, “it was really nice to see that planning exercise lead to such concrete action.”