Care about climate change, or new building approvals?


Today Victoria City Council passed a motion that will be important for those interested in climate action or new building development approvals.

First a bit of context

We are in climate emergency. Victoria has targets for reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and it will be difficult to hit those targets.

About 40% of GHG emissions in Victoria are from buildings. And given the fact that new buildings will be with us for many decades, it’s important that we don’t heat them with systems that have significant GHG emissions. Approving new fossil-fuel heated buildings means locking in decades of GHG emissions, or paying for far-more-expensive retrofits at a later date.

It’s smarter to use electric heat pumps. They save money over the long term. And they also provide cooling in the summer months – and we have heat domes more often. The 2021 heat dome killed 18 Victoria residents, and most of them died indoors. Do you want a building without a cooling system?

What about energy efficiency instead of using electricity?

Extra insulation, triple-paned windows and other energy efficiency measures are nice, but not very effective at deeply reducing GHG emissions from buildings. What is highly effective is using electricity rather than fossil fuels.

Back to today’s Council decision.

The decision essentially ruled that a specific proposal would only proceed through approvals if the building is going to be powered by electricity. Exact wording is below.

As it later turned out, the developer is planning to use electricity, as most developers do nowadays. The building will be built using electric heating.

But there is a lesson here for developers: think carefully about your heating system, early in the process. And tell the city about your plans for heating.

My suggestion is that you not bring forward a proposal for a building that would be heated by fossil fuels. Times have changed, and a new Council has been elected that places a higher priority on climate action than any previous Council.

If you want to gamble, and propose a fossil-fuel heated building, I’d have to advise that it’s not a smart bet. Do the right thing, and the more-likely successful thing: build in clean electricity from the get-go.


Exact wording from the motion (in relation to 349 Kipling, item G.1.a.c.):

“That first and second reading of the zoning bylaw amendment be considered by Council and a public hearing date be set subject to the developer building the core mechanical systems by electrification”. [emphasis added]