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Deep retrofits could kickstart post-COVID recovery

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 5/1/2020 2:13:00 PM

Could a deep retrofit of Canada’s building stock be one of the keys to achieving the twin goals of economic recovery and decarbonisation of the economy? That was the question put to a panel of experts at an Earth Day (April 22, 2020) online roundtable arranged and hosted by the organization Corporate Knights. Panellists largely drawn from the real estate, building, energy efficiency and finance sectors all agreed that the potential was there, but the challenges to meeting that potential are many.

Corporate Knights President Toby Heaps said that the federal government will spend more on wage subsidies over the next three months than it planned to spend over the next decade on climate crisis. When things are shifting that dramatically, said Heaps, what was unthinkable yesterday may be squarely on the table today.

There are important lessons to be drawn from the recovery from the 2008-2009 downturn, said Stewart Elgie, executive chair of the Smart Prosperity Institute and University of Ottawa professor. In 2010, as recovery took hold, global greenhouse gas emissions rose by 6%, and by almost as much again a year later.

“So we actually spurred a brown economic recovery,” Elgie said.

Act short term, but think long term, said Elgie, and that means throwing out much of the pre-COVID-19 playbook. That playbook was written for a different time. We’re spending tomorrow’s money, so we must think about tomorrow’s needs, he said, but “governments are going to have to invest in stuff that generates jobs and growth right away.”

Canadian Green Building Council CEO Thomas Mueller said that Canada cannot meet its 2030 emission targets without a significant contribution from the building sector, and specifically from a deep retrofitting of existing buildings. New construction, even a zero-carbon building, adds carbon to the atmosphere, he said.

“The net reduction between now and 2030 will come from existing buildings,” said Mueller.

Ralph Torrie, president of Torrie Smith Associates, said the beauty of a program to green the existing building stock is that it can begin right now, even while Canadians are sheltering, Now’s the time to begin preparation and training to ensure standards are in place and that a skilled workforce is ready when the economy opens up, he said. A program could be kickstarted with a commitment of $20 billion to the residential sector and $6 billion to institutional and commercial sectors.

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