Keeping Vancouver on Track to Reduce Building Emissions

By Scott Kennedy, Partner, Cornerstone Architecture

This past week, a motion went before Vancouver City Council to delay the implementation of a policy requiring the installation of zero emissions heating and hot water systems in news homes beginning January 1, 2022 by one year. The motion was included in a package of amendments for Council consideration aimed to eliminate a backlog in building permits. Seventy individuals, including myself, spoke to Council on the motion, with the majority speaking out against it. After hours of questions and debate, Council voted against the motion, keeping Vancouver on track to reduce its emissions in buildings, a key pillar of their Climate Emergency Action Plan.

In attempting to improve permit processing times, the motion presented to council by staff missed the mark and compromised the City’s climate objectives. Consideration should have been given as to how to streamline the building application and permitting process without delaying good policy. For example, there are too many layers of staff between applicants and decision makers at city hall. The city needs fewer specialists and more generalists with the authority to make decisions on all aspects of a permit to reduce administrative hurdles. This approach would more easily facilitate the efficient delivery of the built environment. Another option could be to leave it to the design professionals, energy advisors and builders to document their design and then follow up with audits to assess compliance and industry progress.

Vancouver is viewed nationally as a leader on climate policy. The city has supported the training and information sharing needed to transition to energy efficient climate neutral construction. With the federal government, provinces and municipalities looking towards Vancouver for direction on climate policy, it was imperative that Council consider the impact of its decision on the City’s standing as a leader and on policy development across the country, a point that several speakers raised.

This experience should serve as a valuable reminder of how easy it is to slide backwards on climate progress. Even with good policies in place, they can always be delayed or repealed. Communities and industry need to keep sustained pressure on government decision-makers to ensure we stay the course on reducing emissions in buildings and achieve our long-term climate targets.