New legislation in British Columbia could be a game-changer for lowering greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, as long as communities across the province take the next step.
On May 1, the B.C. government gave municipalities a new, potentially very powerful tool to bring down their fossil fuel emissions. This new legislation gives communities more decision-making authority over the use of clean energy sources to heat and power new homes and businesses. The “natural” gas that heats most of our homes is mostly methane, a climate super-pollutant that contributes directly to rising global temperatures and extreme weather events that are already affecting us, including in BC. Buildings are the largest contributor to local emissions in most communities, so this new opportunity is a tangible, effective tool with huge potential to start getting fossil fuels out of our communities.
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The latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change again indicates the seriousness of the situation we are in, but also shows that we have all the tools available to avert the worst and correct course if we make good decisions now. The province’s bid to lock in zero emissions for new buildings is one part of the effort to start bending the curve, reduce our fossil fuel consumption, and halt the inevitable journey to a future I can’t even imagine for our children and grandchildren.
Municipalities like Victoria, Saanich, and Nelson have already taken the new legislation onboard, adopting aggressive timelines to require Zero Emission Step Codes buildings starting later this year. Burnaby, too, has indicated it will adopt the Zero Emission Step Code in the coming year. Many other cities, including Seattle, Vancouver, and Quebec City have taken similar steps to cut down greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, and all of New York State will be doing the same, starting in 2026. It’s clearly the right moment for other B.C. communities to jump onboard and do the same.
A zero-emission step code for new buildings makes even more sense with many cities now planning to retrofit their existing building stock. Burnaby, for example, hopes to retrofit every structure to zero-emission by 2050, which will mean converting 1,400 buildings every year from gas to electricity. If communities continue to allow gas hook-ups for new buildings, there will only be that many more to retrofit back to electricity in a few years’ time, adding up to a needless waste of valuable time and taxpayers’ money.
Zero-emission buildings are also affordable, equitable, and safer. Most zero-emission buildings will use electric heat pumps that can lower a renter’s or owner’s power bill by at least 30 to 40%. They also provide cooling in summer, potentially saving lives at a time of year that is increasingly hot and smoky.
And electric buildings are healthier. Gas stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces burn methane and leak noxious chemicals equivalent to living with a smoker, causing 12% of childhood asthma cases. And they increasingly make sense in colder climates when they’re designed accordingly.
The potential impacts of this new legislation are immense. Quality of life, social equity, affordability, health, safety, future climate adaptation, and cost of living can all start to improve for so many, if B.C. communities commit to an accelerated timeline for moving new buildings off fossil fuels. (Or better yet, the provincial government commits to a province-wide ban on gas-hookups for new buildings.) Like no other climate solution presented so far, the Zero Carbon Step Code has given me a measure of hope that, we can adjust course and preserve the future for our children and theirs.
Kate McMahon is a member of For Our Kids (Burnaby) – a parent/caregiver-led organization working to ensure a livable planet for our children.
I don’t have a comment so much as questions. How is it equitable for this organization, and municipalities and the Provincial government to off load its pollution on the inhabitants of the present and future, and the river valleys of this Province. How is this article not as hypocritical as the NDP deciding to continue with Site C?
How does increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand offload pollution?
I didn’t see one statement in the article about increasing energy efficiency. The only demand reduction mentioned was for methane used in buildings, to be accomplished with a switch to electricity, which in BC is produced from methane emitting reservoirs, reservoirs that flood carbon sequestering forests and farmlands.
Hi Randall! You are right! This new zero emission code won’t be much good without increased energy efficiency as well. These specific code updates added at the beginning of May reference carbon performance only, but need to be used in conjunction with the increasingly stringent energy efficient building step code, which regulate building efficiency and will ultimately bring down demand. BC Hydro has indicated that they have capacity to supply growing demand, (including more EVs and electrified buildings) without any more large scale projects like Site C. Here is a presentation they provided to the Victoria City Council outlining their Integrated Resource Plan for meeting future demand. https://pub-victoria.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=d0705e2a-e368-4d3b-8da3-d278f7635719&Agenda=Merged&lang=English&Item=22&Tab=attachments
Does this article even mention the new legislation? What are we talking about?
These are updates made to the BC Energy Step Code. You can find them here – look for revision 5, effective May 1, 2023. https://energystepcode.ca/requirements/#bcbc-2018-rev-5
The elephant in the room – that is not addressed – are the planned LNG terminals. If they are made to operate on electric power, there will not be enough electricity available to electrify buildings and transport in BC. If the planned LNG terminals are allowed to operate on fossil gas (meaning burning gas to power the compressors and chillers) it will be impossible to reach the BC GHG reduction targets.