These building rules could be our climate salvation

Photo courtesy Cascadia Windows

You’ve probably never even heard of two of Canada’s more effective provincial and city-scale climate policies—and that’s probably not a bad thing.

The BC Energy Step Code and the City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan are both building regulations introduced within the past two years or so by the Province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver, respectively.

Not that anybody even raised an eyebrow. As conservative trolls drown the internet with disinformation on carbon pricing and cynical politicians force stupid and inaccurate stickers onto Ontario gas pumps, these regulations have been quietly working away in the background out west, driving down emissions in the communities that have been putting them to work.

Moreover, according to one recent report, they’re seeding the ground for a low-carbon economic bonanza.

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a fan of these regulations. I’ve been writing about and advocating for climate and clean energy policies for close to a decade. I’ve produced dozens of reports on clean power and energy efficiency for Clean Energy Canada and other think tanks, renewable-energy industry associations, and others. And I believe these two policies will ultimately have as much of a positive impact on Vancouver’s—and British Columbia’s—climate leadership legacy and reputation as the much-celebrated carbon tax has had.

How the Regulations Work

But before we get too excited, what is the BC Energy Step Code, anyway? And what is the Zero Emissions Building Plan? And why am I such a fanboy?

Let’s start with the first one. British Columbia’s former Christy Clark government enacted the BC Energy Step Code mere days before calling the election that would eventually spell the undoing of her Liberal Party of British Columbia government. It did so after a team of industry, government, and utility experts hashed out the regulation’s core characteristics over the course of a year and a half.

In simplest terms, the provincial BC Energy Step Code regulation allows cities to require their builders to deliver a higher level of energy efficiency performance in new projects than is expected of them under the base building code. So far more than 50 cities are using it, and together they represent more than 70 percent of new residential construction in the province.

This graphic depicts the rate at which communities have adopted the BC Energy Step Code. Credit: Courtesy Energy Step Code Council.

To understand the BC Energy Step Code, it helps to picture it as a metaphorical staircase. Each step up the stairs represents a higher level of measurable energy efficiency. Cities that use the regulation—it’s optional for them, but not for their builders — move up this “staircase” at their own pace, one “step” at a time. Each time they move up a step, new buildings going up become more energy efficient.

The BC Energy Step Code is basically irrelevant to existing homeowners who live in a community that is using the regulation, unless they intend to tear down their place and rebuild it, or launch into major renovations. In either instance, their builder will be constructing a more efficient home than they would normally would be required to do so, because the construction has to comply with the level of the BC Energy Step Code that their community has adopted.

Those who may be in the market for a new house or low-rise townhome might ask city hall when their community will be adopting Step 3 of the BC Energy Step Code. West Vancouver and both the city and district of North Vancouver are already there. Houses built to meet the requirements of Step 3 will be more durable and more comfortable, with better indoor air quality. And the owner or renter’s heating bill will be lower than it otherwise would have been.

The Zero Emissions Building Plan is similar, but explicitly targets greenhouse gas emissions instead of energy use more broadly, and it only applies in the City of Vancouver. But in both cases, new home buyers no longer have to think of energy efficiency as an optional “upgrade package”—competing for their attention with sexier items such as an all-granite kitchen or, God help me, a salamander broiler.

It’s built into the very DNA of the building.

But, but… What About the Cost?

Yes, thank you, I have heard about the housing affordability crisis.

In 2018, BC Housing, the provincial housing authority, updated an extensive study of the cost implications of the BC Energy Step Code. The building science experts who produced it ran the numbers on thousands of different types of buildings built to various steps of the BC Energy Step Code, then vetted the results with the industry.

It’s a very technical report, but the important bit is on page 37. That’s where we learn that in the areas of the province where most British Columbians live, “all buildings modeled were able to achieve Step 4 for less than a 3% incremental capital cost, and achieve Step 3 for less than 2.4%.”

Allow me to unpack that. First, a home built to meet the requirements of Step 3 or Step 4 will be substantially more durable, comfortable, and cheaper to heat than one built to minimum legal requirements. And, the researchers concluded, such a home can be built for 2.4 to 3% above what it would cost to construct it to the base building code. A series of real-world case studies subsequently confirmed the projections.

Three percent isn’t nothing, but it’s in line with what builders already pay to get up to speed each time there is a new building code update. And there’s another way of looking at it, too.

Earlier this year, with funding support from Natural Resources Canada and BC Hydro, I co-authored a report Lessons From the BC Energy Step Code. One of the sources I interviewed put the “costs” of energy efficient buildings into perspective nicely: “Just as with seismic standards, fire prevention and egress measures, and public health requirements, energy performance is not cost-neutral,” one interviewee said. “Rather, it is an investment for societal good.”

Some in Canada’s home building industry argue that energy efficiency measures must remain voluntary, and out of the realm of regulation. Unfortunately, that approach has not yielded a wave of high-performance, energy efficient, climate-fighting buildings. Instead, until these regulations came along, high-performance homes in B.C., and in most other places, were relegated to a niche product—pursued only by the most affluent home buyers.

Voluntary energy efficiency standards have effectively kept the many benefits of high-performance homes away from the broader market, from people like you and me. And they have only increased the retrofit burden we will need to deal with down the road as we eventually inevitably work to shift all building emissions to zero.

The BC Energy What Code?

The Province of British Columbia first made the BC Energy Step Code available to local governments in 2017, and it came into legal force at the end of that year. If you missed the hue and cry, that’s because there wasn’t one; all of the province’s largest building construction, and architecture groups helped put it together. No conflict meant no coverage.

The City of Vancouver’s regulation, developed through a similar process, enjoyed a similarly uneventful rollout. The media collectively yawned, and moved on to yet another story about pipelines.

Of the two regulations, only the Zero Emissions Building Plan explicitly targets carbon pollution. But Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey have figured out how to use the BC Energy Step Code to advance their community climate goals. They’re making life a little easier for developers of tall buildings to install low-emissions super-efficient electric heating systems in their buildings rather than the default setup—boilers that burn natural gas, a fossil fuel.

And the BC Energy Step Code and the Zero Emissions Building Plan are significant on another level. They don’t just reduce energy waste in buildings; instead, they work to transform the industry from its very foundations. And along the way, it turns out, generate a lot of cash.

A $3.3 Billion Opportunity

Still with me? Good, because I’ve saved the best part for last.

This past spring, the Vancouver Economic Commission released a study examining how the BC Energy Step Code and Zero Emissions Building Plan might together boost demand for high-performance, low-carbon building materials and technologies within Metro Vancouver, and what that would mean for the region’s economy.

The agency concluded that between today and 2032 these two boring regulations could together drive a new market for technologies and materials to the tune of $3.3 billion.

“There’s a whole new segment of the market that is emerging in different product categories as a result of the BC Energy Step Code and the Zero Emissions Building Plan,” George Benson, who works with the Vancouver Economic Commission as a green-building market consultant, told me.

Benson says it’s likely too early to start seeing the impact of the policies on British Columbia firms. But a low-carbon building boom is clearly on the horizon, he says.

“The point of the study was to do some forecasting to give these companies a longer runway to make business decisions and prepare for the changes,” says Benson. “Those folks who are paying attention and thinking about where their business is going, yeah they’re expecting an increase in business for the high-performance products.”

Benson’s team was interested in the export market potential for British Columbia companies that develop high-performance products. “We think other jurisdictions will be adopting similar performance-based policies in the style of the Step Code,” he says. “That’s where our manufacturers, designers, and installers are really going to shine.”

Shunning the Limelight

The BC Energy Step Code and Vancouver Zero Emissions Building Plan are just two examples of the many nerdy technical regulations that are quietly working away in the background, driving the systemic changes we need to effectively respond to climate change.

Under an agency called Codes Canada, the federal government is working on a tiered or stepped “model” building energy code loosely based on the BC Energy Step Code. Technical committees develop these model codes for the government which then offers them to all the provinces and territories, many of which adopt them outright.

The feds have also ordered utilities to accelerate the phase out of coal power plants that still help keep the lights on in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia. Its Clean Fuel Standard—again, raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of it—will slash 30 million tonnes of carbon pollution each year by 2030. And Ottawa has directed oil and gas companies stop leaking and venting so much methane—a powerful and very dangerous climate pollutant.

Not that it gets much credit for any of this, at least not here at home. Certain Canadian environmental groups cannot stop talking about bitumen, and remain reluctant to offer any praise where it is due. (Meanwhile, just to the south of us, leading U.S. environmentalists have characterized Canada’s methane climate regulations as “globally leading.”)

Yes, carbon pricing will be helpful. Of course. But in the end, arcane regulations like the BC Energy Step Code will do much of the heavy lifting on climate change. They will carry us into a prosperous low-carbon economy, in British Columbia and everywhere else.

And ideally, nobody will even notice it happening. SOURCE

Trump bizarrely declares war against ‘flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times’

Image result for Trump bizarrely declares war against 'flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times'

President Trump is taking “no obstruction” very seriously.

Trump is apparently sick of flushing toilets, the world unnecessarily learned on Friday. In some unknown place, some unknown people are cursed with “flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times” before everything goes where it needs to go, Trump said in a White House tirade against environmental protections.

“We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers, and other elements of bathrooms,” Trump said, perhaps hinting at toilet paper or even hand towels. “You turn on the faucet, you don’t get any water,” Trump said of these places where there are “tremendous amounts of water.” “They take a shower, the water comes dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times,” Trump said of this mystery population. “So the EPA is looking at this very strongly,” Trump reassured the nation’s stressed-out flushers.

Kyle Griffin


Here’s the video, via WaPo, of Trump discussing toilet flushing: “We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers, and other elements of bathrooms … You turn on the faucet and you don’t get any water … People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times.”

Embedded video

Earlier in the same rant, Trump complained about the energy efficient lightbulbs that are apparently giving him an “orange look,” which he does not want. Kathryn Krawczyk SOURCE

Alberta government plans sweeping changes through 2 omnibus bills

Bills 20 and 21 propose to end ban on replacement workers, control where doctors practise

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews at the Federal Building in Edmonton on Thursday, speaking to reporters ahead of delivering his government’s first budget. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Alberta government on Monday introduced two pieces of omnibus legislation containing sweeping changes that include ending a ban on using replacement workers during labour disputes and controlling where in the province doctors can practise.

Bills 20 and 21 include some changes that were introduced in last Thursday’s budget, and others that were revealed for the first time. There are 35 changes laid out in the two bills.

Finance Minister Travis Toews says they demonstrate the government’s desire to tackle Alberta’s debt, which is costing $2 billion in interest each year.

“Budget 2019 and these bills are a swift first response to these concerns,” he said.

The government intends, through Bill 21, to roll back legislation passed by the previous NDP government that banned the use of replacement workers for essential government services during public sector strikes when an essential services agreement is in place.

The NDP law followed a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of public sector workers to go on strike. Toews said the change by the United Conservative government is constitutional.

“I believe this will stand up [in court],” he said. “Our first priority is to Albertans, that we can ensure that we are delivering essential services at a time of a labour walkout.”

NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips says the government is trying to throw labour relations into chaos.

“This is a particular type of playbook from particular kind of government that has a certain orientation to it,” she said.

Bill 21 proposes to give the health minister the ability to tell physicians where they can practise in Alberta when they are issued the identification numbers they require to bill the government for services; forcing them to practise in under-served areas of the province.

Bill 21 also proposes giving the justice minister the power to amend funding arrangements for policing through regulations, not law, so they can make changes more quickly.

Smaller municipalities under 5,000 and municipal districts do not pay for policing. The Alberta government has been holding community consultations on a new funding model this fall.

Other changes in Bills 20 and 21 were announced in last week’s budget. They include suspending indexation on the province’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Income Support benefits, removing the tuition freeze, and ending tax credit programs like the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit.

Ending indexation of AISH and Income Support is expected to save the government $300 million by 2022-23.

The government estimates it will save about $7 million in AISH payments in 2019-20; $35 million in 2020-21; $66.4 million in 2021-22 and $101.4 million by 2022-23. For income support, the savings are $3 million in 2019-20; $16.4 million in 2020-21; $29.4 million in 2021-22 and $42.2 million in 2022-23.

Indexing increases payments to match increases in inflation. The Alberta government estimates the inflation rate will hover around two per cent over the next few years.

Measures proposed in Bill 20:

    • End the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, Capital Investment Tax Credit, Community and Economic Tax Credit, Alberta Investor Tax Credit, Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Credit.
    • End education and tuition tax credits.
    • Repeal the city charters for Edmonton and Calgary and put a new Local Government Fiscal Framework Act in its place.
    • Suspend indexation of tax brackets for income tax system, saving the government at least $600 million by the end of 2022-23 fiscal year.
    • End the Lottery Fund and move the money into general revenue.
    • End the Access to the Future Fund, the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund, and Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund.
    • Roll the Alberta Child Benefit and Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit into the single Alberta Child and Family Benefit.
    • Increase tobacco tax rate.
    • Amend the funding agreements for LRT in Edmonton and Calgary so provincial cash can come after 2023.

Measures proposed in Bill 21:

    • Temporarily suspend indexation of benefits for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Income Support and the Seniors Lodge Program.
    • Provide more detailed quarterly financial reports.
    • Exclude budget officers, systems analysts, auditors and employees who perform similar functions from bargaining units.
    • Reverse the replacement worker ban in the public sector.
    • End tuition freeze for three years.
    • Increase student loan interest by one per cent.
    • End regulated rate option cap for electric.
    • Allow health minister to place conditions on new practitioner identification numbers.
    • Allow changes to the master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.
    • Allow minister to change through regulation how municipalities pay for policing.
    • Change how the province uses fine money it collects on behalf of municipalities.
    • Allow the government to have greater oversight over collective bargaining with public sector employees, including the length of the agreement, and the use of salary surveys.
    • Subjecting funding for disasters to a supply vote in the legislature.


Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men

The World Economic Forum has released its annual study on gender equality, and Canada once again is ranked 20th.    Not surprisingly, the Scandinavian countries are once again at the top of the rankings, where the state and strong unions are very actively involved in regulating the economy and redistributed wealth. Perhaps it’s time to write to our ‘feminist’ Prime Minister.

Iceland fan flag

Clive Rose/Getty Images

  • A new law in Iceland making it illegal to pay women less than men came into effect on January 1, 2018.
  • Companies will now have to obtain certification for demonstrating equal pay.
  • Iceland has been ranked the best in the world for gender pay equality for 9 years in a row.

Iceland has made it illegal to pay men more than women.

A new law enforcing equal pay between genders came into effect on January 1, 2018, according to Al Jazeera.

Under the legislation, firms that employ more than 25 people are obliged to obtain a government certificate demonstrating pay equality, or they will face fines.

The law was announced on March 8 on International Women’s Day 2017 as part of a drive by the nation to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022.

Dagny Osk Aradottir Pind, of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, told Al Jazeera: “The legislation is basically a mechanism that companies and organisations … evaluate every job that’s being done, and then they get a certification after they confirm the process if they are paying men and women equally.” MORE


‘Equality won’t happen by itself’: how Iceland got tough on gender pay gap

John Horgan announces policy reforms to rebuild coastal forest sector

Premier John Horgan says his government plans to rebuild the solid wood and secondary timber industries by ensuring more logs are processed in British Columbia.

BC Premier John Horgan

Plans are in the works to rebuild the wood and secondary timber industries in British Columbia by ensuring more logs are processed in the province, said Premier John Horgan.

The forest sector revitalization plan will be done through incentives and regulation changes, he said in a speech at the annual Truck Loggers Convention on Thursday.

The policy changes include increasing penalties for late reporting of wood waste, and reducing the waste by redirecting it to pulp and paper mills.

The actions will reverse a systematic decline that has taken place in the coastal forest sector over the past two decades, he said, adding the plan will be implemented through a series of legislative, regulatory and policy changes over the next two years.

More timber can be processed here in B.C. and to accomplish that the government will reform raw log export policy, discourage high grading and curtail the export of minimally processed lumber, he said. MORE

Political climate is heating up

Road sign saying "End climate injustice"

As we head into an election year in Canada, we must ensure that climate and the environment are priorities for all parties.(Photo: Jon Tyson via Unsplash)

In 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen reported to Congress that evidence for human-caused global warming was near undeniable, conservative politicians including the U.K.’s Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canada’s Brian Mulroney agreed that action was needed. In my home province of B.C., a right-leaning government, the B.C. Liberal Party, introduced a carbon tax in 2008.

Now, as the evidence compels us to increasingly urgent action — the latest IPCC report says we have about 12 years to get emissions under control or face catastrophe — politicians from parties that once cared about the future are lining up to downplay or deny human-caused climate disruption and are hindering plans to address it.

There’s little evidence that governments are treating the climate emergency as seriously as is warranted, preferring to focus on short-term economic gains and election cycles instead.

Here in Canada, politicians claim to take climate change seriously but reject plans to mitigate it without offering better alternatives. Some provincial and federal leaders are governing or building campaigns around rejection of carbon pricing, a proven tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s interesting, because carbon pricing is a market-based strategy, whereas the kind of government regulation that would be required in its absence is something conservative thinkers usually reject. MORE

Federal Government Moves Forward to Fight Climate Change with Carbon Price Standards


The Federal Government took a big step forward in its fight against climate change today [Dec 20] by releasing new standards for the big emitters of greenhouse gases as part of its carbon pricing plan. It released the draft Output Based Pricing System (OBPS) regulations for the jurisdictions where the federal carbon pricing system will apply.

“By putting a price on greenhouse gases from the big emitters, the Federal Government is using the marketplace to transform our economy away from the fossil fuels that are causing climate change,” stated CAPE President and Yellowknife Emergency Physician, Dr. Courtney Howard.

“According to authorities such as the prestigious medical journal, the Lancet Countdown, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), say that carbon pricing is a key policy tool needed to fight climate change. Many economists and the Business Council of Canada also emphasize this point.” MORE

Coal power in Canada must disappear by the end of 2029, new regulations say

The death knell for coal−fired electricity in Canada is set to ring in just over 12 years.

Ottawa put the final regulations in effect this week with such strict pollution standards for coal−power plants that only one plant in Canada can possibly meet them. MORE