Photo credit: Bruce Irschick. Source:

Compared to devices that pull carbon from the air, zero-emission vehicles and bargain basement solar panels, zoning policy may not be the most Elon Musk-inspired tool in the fight against climate change.   

But forcing builders to adhere to energy efficiency policies in exchange for a development permit may be one of the most powerful.

As of May 1, the City of Vancouver’s Green Building Policy for Rezoning took effect, one of the biggest planks in the city’s Greenest City plan.

Writing in the Province, city of Vancouver climate policy manager Matt Horne explained the program this way:

“A builder or developer will apply to rezone a property when they want to build something that doesn’t meet the requirements set for the location. The most common rezoning application is to build taller residential and commercial buildings, and these applications represent about 55 per cent of new development. Moving forward, the improved standards will apply to all rezoned buildings.”


The goal is to reduce GHG emissions in new rezoned buildings by 50 per cent. Developers are free to choose the building techniques and technologies they employ to meet the emissions reduction framework.

That could include passive house-type technologies to minimize heating costs, as well as technologies that utilize non-emitting energy sources.  Reducing the city’s dependence on non-renewable energy over the long term will also result in buildings that are less drafty, quieter and more comfortable.

According to a report to Vancouver city council, the plan includes targets “to reduce emissions from new buildings by 90% as compared to 2007 by 2025 and to achieve zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030.”

Vancouver is already one of the world’s lowest emitting cities. The city has cut its emissions to 1990 levels despite a surge in population. Its greenhouse gas emissions sit at around 4.6 metric tonnes of CO2e per capita, putting it behind Copenhagen and Stockholm but well ahead of its Canadian counterparts in Toronto and Montreal. The new zoning policy, similar to policies that already exist in Europe, is expected to improve on that.

The city maintains the policy will not have a negative impact on housing affordability. But critics of the plan say Vancouver needs to rethink the plan in response to an affordability crisis in the city. Writing in Western Investor, Frank O’Brien says the policy will “foist much higher prices onto what is already the most expensive housing in Canada” by requiring developers to use more expensive construction techniques that will have a negligible impact on climate change.  

By Jonny Wakefield, 25 May 2017

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This article was written for Clean Capital News a free bi-weekly publication dedicated to producing topical articles on sustainability and clean technology that advance our understanding of issues like climate change and help generate solutions for a more sustainable future.

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