This year marks the sixth anniversary of Climate Week, which got off to an extraordinary start with yesterday’s People’s Climate March. In New York City, where most of the climate action is taking place including the UN Climate Summit, more than 300,000 people took to the streets in support of climate action, and more than 100 events and high-profile meetings are taking place throughout the city every day this week.
Cities around the world are leading the charge to secure a safer climate future. Here, Toronto Atmospheric Fund takes a multi-pronged approach to addressing climate change. Our top priority is supporting energy conservation in the built environment.
In Toronto, the energy we use in our homes and buildings accounts for about 50% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is one of many reasons we’ve selected buildings as our primary focus area to reduce carbon pollution. Space and water heating are the main source of GHG emissions from buildings; many people would be surprised to learn that two-thirds of the energy we use in our homes and buildings comes from natural gas used for space and water heating.
The good news is that it’s possible to dramatically reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions in our homes and buildings, using proven technologies and approaches that pay for themselves by reducing utility bills.
Moreover, taking advantage of these opportunities creates green jobs and stimulates the local economy. Torontonians spend almost $5 billion annually on energy bills, creating a massive “energy drain” on our local economy. Every million dollars we avoid spending on energy can create 5-10 net “person years of employment”, both by employing people to retrofit buildings and by keeping more money in the local economy. If we could reduce Toronto’s energy drain by 20%, it could support up to 10,000 new jobs while reducing our annual GHG emissions by 2 million tonnes!
Here’s what TAF is doing to advance energy conservation in our homes and buildings:
- TAF helped design and fund the City’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP), which was launched this year. The HELP program offers low-interest loans to eligible home owners to finance energy upgrades like insulation and high-efficiency furnaces. The loans are paid back through your property tax bill. If you decide to move before the loan is repaid, it is transferable to the new owner who will continue benefitting from the upgrades. A sister program called Hi-RIS is available for multi-family rental buildings
- If you live in a high-rise condo, don’t worry. Our Power of Green guidebook for condominiums provides step-by-step advice for condo boards on how to improve energy efficiency. For condominiums that can’t afford energy upgrades, TAF created a specialized financing product called an Energy Savings Performance Agreement that lets condos and other buildings pay back the financing out of the energy cost savings. The best part is, if there’s no savings, then no payments.
- With more than 100 high rise buildings under construction, it’s critical that new buildings be built as efficiently as possible. TAF helped the City create building standards that address everything from energy and water efficiency to bicycle parking and storm water management. Version 2.0 of the Toronto Green Standard took effect in January 2014, and requires all new development projects be designed to outperform the Province’s energy efficiency standards by 15%.
- While there are established, proven technologies that can reduce energy use in buildings, there is still a lot to learn. TAF’s TowerWise Demonstration program is working with 10 Toronto buildings to implement energy-efficiency retrofits that will reduce GHG emissions by at least 25%. Working with utility, government, and academic partners, TAF is using these projects to demonstrate the performance of energy conservation technologies and the value of a holistic whole building approach.
With global GHG emissions continuing to increase at an accelerating pace, it’s easy to lose hope. But solutions to global warming exist, and many individuals, businesses, and even entire countries are successfully reducing their GHG emissions. Toronto’s emissions are now about 15% below 1990 levels, and if we redouble our efforts we will meet and possibly exceed the City’s commitment to reduce emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. All of this can be accomplished via smart investments that save money and support the local economy. What are we waiting for?