All new Toronto buildings could soon face tighter greenhouse gas emissions targets

The City of Toronto could soon require developers to ensure new buildings have lower carbon emissions and consume less energy, while adding more green roofs and electric vehicle parking spots, as well as promoting native pollinator species like bees.

More restrictions could drive up costs and push out investment, developers warn

All new buildings in Toronto could soon be required to meet more ambitious environmental standards as the city aims to hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The City of Toronto could soon require developers to ensure new buildings have fewer carbon emissions and consume less energy, while adding more green roofs and electric vehicle parking spots, as well as promoting native pollinator species like bees.

It's all part of the city's proposed fourth update to the Toronto Green Standard — a "critical" step toward Toronto's goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, said Bryan Purcell, vice president of policy and programs at The Atmospheric Fund, a regional climate change agency.

"With a rapidly growing city, there is simply no path to net zero that doesn't require a transition to near-zero new construction," Purcell told the city's Planning and Housing Committee Monday. 

"The Toronto Green Standard is by far Toronto's most important climate policy."

The committee passed the staff recommendations Monday, which will be considered by the full council in July.

This updated standard would kick in May 2022 and require new mid-high rise residential and commercial builders to cut annual greenhouse gases and energy use intensity a further 25 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, compared to the current version. Right now, these targets are voluntary, but under Version Four they'd become mandatory. 

Buildings are responsible for 59 per cent of Toronto's carbon emissions, The Atmospheric Fund reports. And with rapid growth and development expected over the next decades, many more will be added to the city's skyline. That's why the city's trying to get ahead of potential emissions by aiming for new buildings to hit near net-zero by 2030.

A push for pollinators, biodiversity

Purcell said in an interview that to achieve the energy targets, developers could install well-insulated and sealed window walls in condo units, or reduce the size of windows, to keep heat in. To reduce carbon emissions, developers could invest in the best available natural gas equipment or high efficiency electric heat pumps.

"We know it's doable within a reasonable cost," Purcell said. "[The targets] are challenging. That's because climate change is a pressingchallenge. Like any other industry, we're giving the development industry some challenging targets." 

The population of the Greater Toronto Area is expected to hit eight million in the next decade, generating a slew of new high-rise buildings. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Developers would have to plan to accommodate electric vehicles in 25 per cent of parking spaces, up from 20 per cent in the current version. They'd also be required to ensure 25 per cent of the lot is planted with native flowers for pollinators.

Version 4 adds more requirements to reduce storm-water runoff and increase trees and biodiversity. Developers would have to ensure at least 80 per cent of the buildings' roofs are green and 50 per cent of plants support pollinators.

Developers warn of 'unintended consequences'

David Wilkes, the CEO and president of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), said developers recognize the need for sustainable initiatives, but are concerned the standard would make building more expensive. BILD is calling for more consultations with the city.

The cost of some buildings supplies has increased over the course of the pandemic, including lumber, HVAC systems and steel, which the Toronto Green Standard doesn't take into account, Wilkes said. And BILD members already follow the Ontario Building Code provides direction to be more sustainable, he added.

"We're worried those additional requirements could have unintended consequences," Wilkes told CBC News.

He said Toronto would become "an island" with these new standards, compared to surrounding municipalities, "potentially discouraging new investment in the city."

City needs to do more 'and do it faster,' group says 

Chris Ballard, CEO of Passive House Canada, representing architects, engineers, manufacturers and general contractors, urged the committee to consider adopting more ambitious targets in the coming years.

"We hear from our members that while Toronto is moving in the right direction involving GHG emission reductions, it needs to do more and it needs to do it faster to adapt to the reality of climate change."

He told the councillors not to "buy into" the notion that the updated standard would be significantly disruptive to developments.

"From the experience of our members and colleagues working worldwide, the capacity to build to these standards only happens when change is legislated," Ballard said.


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