Feds need new approach to cut emissions from infrastructure

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New federal policy could cut emissions from infrastructure and boost the Canadian construction industry, but the government’s approach needs an upgrade, according to a new report from Clean Energy Canada and Global Efficiency Intelligence.

Money Talks models the potential impact of Buy Clean here in Canada and includes recommendations endorsed by an alliance of industry, labour and environmental groups—for how Buy Clean could cut even more emissions while supporting Canadian industry

“Canadian industry is already ahead when it comes to clean construction materials thanks to a comparatively clean electricity grid and a host of world-leading cleantech companies,” said Oliver Sheldrick, clean economy program manager at Clean Energy Canada. “By getting Buy Clean right, we can slash carbon pollution from our buildings and infrastructure while supporting Canadian industries and the thousands of jobs that go with them.”

About seven per cent of the world’s carbon emissions are associated with building materials like steel, cement, and aluminum, leaving a construction-shaped hole in global efforts to combat climate change.

In response, governments around the world—including Canada and the U.S.—are adopting “Buy Clean” policies to preferentially buy cleaner construction products for public infrastructure projects and grow the market for lower-carbon materials.

Canada already produces some of the world’s cleanest cement, aluminum, and steel thanks, in part, to its comparatively low-carbon electricity grid. But without a strong domestic market for these products, Canada could lose its competitive advantage as America’s new Inflation Reduction Act channels billions of dollars into growing the market for U.S.-made, low-carbon building materials—threatening Canada’s clean industrial head start.

“Canada’s cement and concrete industry has been steadfast in our commitment to reduce our emissions by 15MT cumulatively by 2030 and reach true net-zero by 2050,” Cement Association of Canada president and CEO Adam Auer said in a statement. “A key component of realizing this goal is to increase the availability and use of low carbon concrete.

“By putting Buy Clean policies in place, governments can continue to enjoy the benefits of concrete—a durable, resilient, versatile and cost effective material—while at the same time realizing vital emissions reductions and supporting jobs in communities from coast, to coast, to coast.”

It’s one reason the Buy Clean Alliance (made up of steel, cement, aluminum, and forestry industry associations alongside groups representing labour and the environment) is advocating for Canada to up its Buy Clean ambition to ensure it stays in the race.

Our report finds that the Canadian public sector makes up around a fifth of all infrastructure spending in the country, while emissions from building publicly funded infrastructure is equal to the pollution from 1.7 million gas cars (8 million tonnes of CO2e).

The federal government is developing a Buy Clean strategy for federal construction projects, like ports or government buildings, but this covers just 4% of all public spending and less than 1% of all infrastructure spending in Canada.

Did you know?

The real heft of Canada’s public infrastructure spending rests with provinces, municipalities and Crown corporations. Only by adopting a truly national approach will Buy Clean significantly bolster Canada’s clean industrial market in the face of American competition.

The report recommends several steps the federal government should take to build a truly effective Buy Clean strategy, endorsed by the Buy Clean Alliance:

  • Expand the scope: Mandate Buy Clean requirements across the whole federal government, including for Crown corporations and federal investments in provincial and municipal infrastructure.
  • Develop provincial and local capacity: Create a dedicated team in the federal government to provide support to all levels of government—from provinces to municipalities—and the private sector to get on board with Buy Clean.
  • Build the foundation for a national approach: Reform building standards to enable low-carbon materials while also investing in data, tools, and programs to test and scale even cleaner construction solutions.

“Buy Clean policies that encourage the purchase of lower carbon construction materials, which are competitively produced by domestic industries, will keep good jobs for workers in communities across Canada,” Jamie Kirkpatrick, senior program manager at Blue Green Canada. “Buying clean will help maintain Canadian industrial jobs, significantly cut the embodied carbon of our buildings, bridges and infrastructure.”

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