Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

10/30/2017 | By Janelle Penny

New York City and Canada examine ways to lower building-related GHGs

New York City

New York City is launching greenhouse gas emission caps to achieve an 80% reduction by 2050. Owners of non-compliant buildings could face steep fines.

Buildings in New York City will soon be subject to a dramatic reduction in allowable greenhouse gas emissions, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced new fossil fuel caps that apply to every building over 25,000 feet.

The mandates will require upgrades to boilers, water heaters, roofs and windows by 2030, especially for the 14,500 worst-performing buildings in the city, which together produce roughly 24% of the city’s total emissions. This step is part of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, a goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. withdrew from earlier this year.

“Time is not on our side,” de Blasio says. “New York will continue to step up and make critical changes to help protect our city and prevent the worst effects of climate change. We must shed our buildings’ reliance on fossil fuels here and now.”

By 2035, the new targets will reduce the city’s emissions by 7%, equivalent to taking about 900,000 cars off the road. Owners of non-compliant buildings will be fined in accordance with building size and the amount by which their buildings exceed the fossil fuel use target. For example, a 1-million-square-foot building operating well over its target could be fined as much as $2 million for every year it exceeds the target. Not complying with the climate requirements could also impact whether the building receives a permit for future renovations.

The Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) is also pushing for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions with its new report, A Roadmap for Retrofits in Canada. The recommendations in the CaGBC report are not mandatory, but they do provide a simple and straightforward path to lowering emissions in ways that are specific to each province. Many of the strategies named in the report could apply to U.S. buildings as well. Among the roadmap’s conclusions are:

  • By 2030, Canada can lower building-related emissions by 30-51% by focusing on a targeted number of buildings that have the greatest potential for carbon reduction. These include office buildings, shopping malls, universities and arenas built between 1960-1979.
     
  • Alberta and Ontario have the greatest potential for reducing emissions because they currently emit the most carbon due to Alberta’s carbon-intense electricity grid and Ontario’s many large buildings. If this sounds like your portfolio or region, you can likely capitalize on similar opportunities.
     
  • All provinces must prioritize recommissioning for buildings over 25,000 square feet and deep retrofits for buildings that are more than 35 years old to meet the target, the report says. These two actions alone will provide 62% of the needed reduction.
     
  • Fuel switching is necessary for at least 20% of buildings over 35 years old. The practice is especially attractive in provinces with clean electricity grids, such as British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, the study notes: “In these regions, significant effort should be put into increasing the adoption of highly efficient heat pump technology.” Fuel switching can provide another 25% of the reduction activity required.
     
  • The last 13% of necessary reduction activity can come from switching 30% of buildings in provinces with carbon-intense electricity grids to renewable energy.

Canada’s future building retrofit code must also include a greenhouse gas metric, the study recommends.


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