“There’s no pathway to stabilizing the climate without phasing gas out of our homes and buildings. This is a must-do for the climate and a livable planet,” said Rachel Golden of the Sierra Club’s building electrification campaign.
These new building codes come as local governments work to speed the transition from natural gas and other fossil fuels and toward the use of electricity from renewables, said Robert Jackson, a professor of energy and the environment at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
“Every house, every high-rise that’s built with gas, may be in place for decades. We’re establishing infrastructure that may be in place for 50 years,” he said.
These “reach” or “stretch” building codes, as they are known, have so far all been passed in California. The first was in Berkeley in July, then more in Northern California and recently Santa Monica in Southern California. Other cities in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state are contemplating them, according to the Sierra Club.
Some of the cities ban natural gas hookups to new construction. Others offer builders incentives if they go all-electric, much the same as they might get to take up more space on a lot if a house is extra energy-efficient. In April, Sunnyvale, a town in Silicon Valley, changed its building code to offer a density bonus to all-electric developments.
No more gas stoves?
The building codes apply only to new construction beginning in 2020, so they aren’t an issue for anyone in an already-built home.
Probably the biggest stumbling block for most pondering an all-electric home is the prospect of not having a gas stove.
“It’s the only thing that people ever ask about,” said Bruce Nilles, who directs the building electrification program of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that focuses on energy and resource efficiency.
Roughly 35% of U.S. households have a gas stove, while 55%have electric, according to a 2017 kitchen audit by the NPD Group, a global information company based in Port Washington, New York.
For at least a quarter of Americans, it doesn’t matter either way. They already live in houses that are all-electric, and their numbers are rising, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s especially true in the Southeast, where close to 45% of homes are all-electric.
For the rest of the nation, natural gas is used to heat buildings and water, dry clothes and cook food, according to the EIA. That represents 17% of national natural gas usage.
But the number of natural gas customers is also rising. The American Gas Association, which represents more than 200 local energy companies, says an average of one new customer is added every minute.
“That’s exactly the wrong direction,” Nilles said. MORE
She has barely ever been in a car, and never eaten meat or flown. Now 31, she lives on the 15th floor of a city centre tower from where she can just see the ocean 500 yards away on one side and the suburbs and informal settlements sprawling as far as the eye can see on the other.
Life is OK in this megacity. She earns the exact median income and is as green as she feels she can be: she has no children yet, her carbon footprint is negligible, and her apartment, built in the early 2000s, has been retrofitted for climate change with deep insulation, its own solar air-con and heating systems.
It has a “living” wall of plants and a balcony where she grows a few vegetables. Waste is automatically sorted or composted. Outside it may be roasting, with temperatures often higher than 40C. Inside, she’s cool.
She loves where she lives, even though the water tastes slightly salty sometimes and there are often electricity outages in the summer months because of the frequent droughts affecting reservoir levels. Her windows catch the breeze, and because the mayor has adapted to climate change by banning cars across the whole city centre and no fossil fuels are burned nearby, there’s little air pollution. She feels healthy.
Food is expensive because of the massive floods and droughts that have affected the world’s main food-growing areas, but most of hers is organically grown and is delivered by drone from the nearby 20-storey “farmscraper” built 10 years ago. Most cities of this size grow as much of their own food as possible these days, as a way to reduce transport emissions.
Artist’s impression of ‘farmscrapers’, designed by architect firm Vincent Callebaut. Image: Solent News/REX/Shutterstock
To make extra money last year, she traded in her annual government carbon and meat quotas. Short-haul flights have been stopped anyway, and like everyone her age, she is allowed just one return flight a year.
But she doesn’t need to travel much now. The city authorities have thrown money at protecting infrastructure and helping people adapt to the higher temperatures and ever more frequent storms. The green spaces have been re-wilded. She can walk safely down the shady, tree-lined streets, cool off in the lido, or visit the urban forest, which the far-sighted city mayor started 20 years ago on wasteland.
But now she really worries. She may have adapted her own life as far as possible to climate change, but so much is out of her control. The world’s population has grown by 2.5 billion people since she was born in 2019, and carbon concentrations reached the 550 ppm (parts per million) milestone last year – just as the IPCC scientists had forecast they would. They were just 407 ppm when she was born.
Despite some international action on climate change, global warming passed the 1.5C mark – considered the maximum for long-term safety – in 2040 and is now heading inexorably for 3C or 3.5C, possibly within 100 years. That is really dangerous and means food and water will be scarcer, the rains will be heavier, and even more people will flood in from rural areas to the city.
Worst of all, the continuing loss of ice at the poles and in the great mountain ranges means sea levels are rising faster than most would have believed possible 30 years ago. The last great superstorm, caused by extraordinarily warm temperatures in the Arctic, flooded miles of coastal settlements and forced the permanent evacuation of dozens of expensive ocean-side apartment blocks. Waves crashed 100 metres beyond the new, higher sea walls. That’s when her water started to taste salty.
Perhaps the time has come for her to sell up and migrate to higher land, she thinks. She has been told that the underground water supplies to her tower block are beginning to be polluted with seawater and might only last 10 years, and that her tower could be deemed unsafe to live in within 20 years because of flooding. But it’s far worse in most parts of the city. There the extremely poor don’t live in strong houses, and can’t build higher walls, relocate, borrow money or adapt so easily.
A view of a flooded lower Manhattan plaza after Hurricane Sandy left most of the area without power in 2012, New York City, USA. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
But if she left, where would she go? Every year her apartment is worth less because it is so close to the ocean; property on higher ground now attracts premium prices. Her city has grown vastly in the previous 20 years, as droughts and floods have made farming less profitable and hundreds of thousands of climate-affected people have migrated in from rural areas. Many of them live with only patchy public transport, and endure dreadful air pollution and heat.
This is the climate breakdown reality she was warned about at school, and why she skipped classes to join the great demonstrations of the 2030s. Back in October 2019, the C40 group of 94 global megacities had used IPCC and World Bank figures to forecast that 1.6 billion people living in over 970 world cities would be regularly exposed to extreme high temperatures by 2050.
It said another 800 million people living in 570 cities would be vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding, including the world’s great coastal cities. And it also said that 2.5 billion people (or nearly one in four people on Earth) would be living in the over 1,600 cities where national food supplies were threatened by the climate crisis – including supposedly richer cities such as Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul and Los Angeles. These predictions proved to be accurate.
Urban Forest Strategy and Precinct Plans by City of Melbourne, winner of an award of excellence from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects in 2016. Photograph: City of Melbourne
Her city did its best to adapt, inspired perhaps by a report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, backed by some of the world’s leading economists, that showed that governments that invested in low-carbon cities could not just help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis but could also massively enhance economic prosperity, attract the most talented people – and, not incidentally, make cities far better places to live.
Permanently cutting 90% of urban emissions in 2019 would have cost the world $1.8tn but would have been generating annual returns of $7tn by now, it said.
“Cities are engines of growth, innovation and prosperity,” António Guterres, then UN secretary general, had said. “It is possible and realistic to realise net-zero emissions by 2050. But to get there we will need the full engagement of city governments combined with national action and support.”
Sadly, most governments did not pay much attention. It’s easy to be wise in retrospect, but money spent then would have been the best investment ever made, she knows. Now the figures seem conservative. Now it is a race against time.
That means conserving water, planting trees, banning fossil fuels, changing diets, adapting farming, improving soils, reducing air pollution which contributes to warming, and even painting buildings white to reflect heat.
These cities get more than 70 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewables. That’s up since the Paris climate agreement.
Burlington, Vermont, gets 100 percent of its power from renewable energy, including from solar farms like this one, built on locally made systems that track the sun. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
As the price of renewable energy drops, more cities are cutting the cord with fossil fuel-based electricity.
A new report released Tuesday by the environmental group CDP finds that more than 100 cities worldwide now get the majority of their power—70 percent or more—from renewables. That’s up from 42 in 2015, when countries pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the Paris climate agreement.
CDP notes that more than 40 of those cities are now powered entirely by renewables, including Burlington, Vermont, which gets its electricity from a combination of wind, solar, hydro and biomass. Burlington will have more company within the next 20 years—58 U.S. cities, including Atlanta and San Diego, having announced plans to do the same.
London-based CDP, which tracks climate-related commitments by corporations and governments, looked at 570 cities across the globe for the report. The group defines renewables as solar, wind, hydro, wave power, biomass, geothermal—or all non-nuclear and non-fossil fuel sources—and includes cities where electricity from clean energy sources is citywide, not just in municipal buildings.
Four U.S. cities made the list of those getting at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewable sources: Seattle; Eugene, Oregon; and Aspen, Colorado, along with Burlington. Five Canadian cities are also on the list: Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, North Vancouver and Prince George, British Columbia. MORE
This posting is a teaser to get you to read the common sense, realistic plans Vancouver is making in the full article. It contains all sorts of initiatives that the Prince Edward Council should be considering. If you wish to send an email to all Members of Council as a group, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coun. Christine Boyle’s motion last January declaring a climate emergency has set the stage for dramatic recommendations from Vancouver city staff.
…Vancouver city council will deal with two major staff reports focusing on greenhouse gas emissions.
The first includes recommendations on the city’s response to a “climate emergency”, which was declared in January by council.
It’s hard to underestimate the impact that this report could have on the city and possibly other countries in the years to come….
Local governments can change the world. That’s been seen in everything from antismoking efforts to cannabis regulation to the peace movement to the trend across the globe to viewing drug addiction as a health issue.
In all four of these areas, Vancouver was a leading player in North America, just as it has been in responding to climate change.
Local actions can persuade senior governments to follow because municipalities are often hothouses for innovation. And this has also been the case with climate change.
“In Canada and around the world, there is a growing movement of hundreds of local governments recognizing the emergency that climate change represents, accelerating their own actions, and calling on provincial/state and national governments to ramp up their responses,” the city report states. “Given the world’s increasingly urbanized population is on the front lines of the fight against climate change, the world’s urban population will disproportionately experience the effects of global warming.”
The city report recommends six “Big Moves”, which will be voted on by council. Below, I’ve listed them, as well as their implications for city residents. MORE
Las Vegas is expanding its self-driving shuttle experiment
Cities across the US are rethinking their policies on homebuilding and transportation. Minneapolis lifted a longstanding, exclusionary ban on multifamily housing. San Francisco joined a few other cities in ending requirements that new developments have a minimum number of parking spaces.
Policymakers from big cities in Oregon and California have proposed statewide revisions to local zoning rules, making possible denser, multifamily homes and public transit. Communities like Austin and Berkeley, typically suspicious of new development, elected city council members with YIMBY-like platforms. (Citylab had a good roundup of the 2018 action.) And now the new governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has released a budget with a $1.3 billion goose to housing construction in cities.
Just a few days ago, a huge milestone in our collective journey to 100% renewable energy was reached when Cincinnati, Ohio became the 100th city to pledge a switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2035. With your help, we’ve seen cities across the country make the pledge, from Denton, Texas to Santa Barbara, California. With every city that Commits to Clean through 100% renewable energy, we take another important step toward reducing the negative health effects caused by climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. The solution is here and we’ve seen that it not only is attainable—it’s a solution being embraced across the nation because of the power in our collective voice. MORE
Cities and communities across the country are ready for a just transition to 100% clean, renewable energy! Tell your mayor and local leaders you’re ready for 100% clean energy for all! TAKE ACTION
The digitalization of the physical world has sparked the emergence of “intelligent industry” – a transformational opportunity to drive climate-friendly growth to a degree that the adoption of renewable energy generation can’t match.
At the steering wheel is Canada, a country assuming a leadership role in building and scaling the technology companies that are driving this global shift founded not only on climate concerns, but competitive advantage.
Addressing climate change is no easy task. Big problems often lead to big, new thinking. However, to effectively address climate change in the near term, the real focus should be on technology that optimizes the performance of existing solutions.
Simply converting to renewable energy generation will yield only a fraction of the change needed to reach a multitude of climate-based goals, including global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity. The most significant changes are to be driven by traditional industries, transportation, buildings, cities and infrastructure and agriculture and food.MORE