IPCC Report: Decarbonizing the building sector at scale and with urgency

Thomas Mueller on March 23, 2023


Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared their Synthesis Report, the final installment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.

This report highlights that human-caused global warming is no longer an abstract or distant concept. Humans are primarily responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the climate and causing increased loss of life due to more intense heatwaves, droughts, floods, and storms.

The report also points out that current government policies set us on a pathway to a future with more than 3 degrees of warming. A livable future requires quick and effective policy changes at all levels of government and business leadership that limit warming to 1.5-2 degrees. Here in Canada, our more northern climate is warming at twice the global average, making it imperative we act now.

These alarming messages from the IPCC are frequent, consistent, and increasingly urgent. The solutions are available, proven, and increasingly affordable.

As Canada’s third largest carbon emitter, the building sector has an important role to play in meeting climate targets. Achieving meaningful carbon reduction demands that everyone, from industry to governments, commit to act now and at scale.

For example, the modelling in the IPCC Synthesis Report identifies that the building sector will be one of the sectors that is slower to transition to net zero emissions and yet is also among those sectors with the highest potential reductions and favourable returns on investment. Building owners and operators can make decisions now to invest in the decarbonization of their building portfolios. As these decisions will have ramifications for decades to come, we need all new buildings to be zero carbon operationally by 2030, and all large existing buildings over 30,000 sq. ft. to be retrofitted to achieve zero carbon by 2050.

The IPCC report also emphasizes that “urban systems are critical for achieving deep emissions reductions and advancing climate resilient development.” This recognition of the critical role of urban systems aligns with CAGBC’s research on how crucial large buildings are in achieving Canada’s emissions reduction targets. Focusing on large building retrofits in urban centres can help achieve 21.2 million tonnes of CO2 reductions by 2030, approximately 55 percent of the effort that Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates the entire building sector must contribute by 2030.

For Canada to achieve its 2030 and 2050 climate targets, we must acknowledge the need for new or strengthened regulations and policies, significant investments by industry and government, innovative financing structures, and a focus on energy grid optimization and carbon price increases.

We need government and industry to scale up and accelerate efforts in four key areas of the building sector:

  • Incentivize transition planning for deep carbon retrofits. We must require zero-carbon transition plans for all building types and support their development as part of any deep carbon retrofit program. Transition planning ensures the effective timing and sequencing of investment in carbon reduction measures over the next 30 years.
  • Fund life cycle assessments (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs) manufactured by small- and medium-sized Canadian companies. Seize the opportunities now to build a local supply chain for made-in-Canada low-carbon building materials.
  • Fund a Building Data Strategy and structure that collects and discloses data. This will enable the performance verification and reporting of emissions for different building types (industrial, commercial, institutional, multi-unit residential).
  • Extend the investment tax credit for clean technologies (class 43.1) to support the adoption of high-performance building envelope technologies and the electrification of buildings. Ensure that eligible tax credits are transferable from non-taxable to taxable entities and support the upfront cost of deep carbon retrofit projects through a new incentive program for large buildings.

This most recent IPCC report strengthens the opportunity for the building sector to be at the core of Canada’s emissions reduction plan.

CAGBC’s research shows that the building sector has access to the technologies and skills required for transformation. We have the certification and learning programs in place to support this transformation, and are a global leader with one of the best zero carbon standards in the market today.

Decisive action can transform this decade for climate action into a decade of prosperity. Taking a bold climate-forward approach to transforming the building sector can create a million green building jobs and boost GDP by $150 billion by 2030.

The building industry in Canada is globally recognized for its wide-spread adoption of the LEED rating system over the last twenty years.  The building sector is well-prepared to achieve deep emissions reductions on an accelerated timeline. As a trusted advisor and building sector partner, CAGBC is ready to support industry and government to move forward.

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