Ottawa among North American leaders for climate change resilience: CBRE report

downtown Ottawa - climate change

Ottawa has emerged as a leader in climate change resilience, according to a new report from CBRE. 

The North American City Sustainability Study released Tuesday assessed 66 cities to determine how susceptible they could be to the damaging effects of climate change. The study examined municipal policies and regulations, emission-reduction targets, property retrofit costs, green building stock, green financing, and vulnerability to climate-related disasters. 

According to the report’s findings, Ottawa is one of the top 10 cities well-positioned against climate change. 

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“Ottawa has emerged as a leader in climate change resilience by investing in and implementing sustainability measures, improving its ability to protect property values and attract real estate occupiers amid climate risks,” CBRE said in a release. 

Besides Ottawa, three other Canadian cities made the cut: Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. The remaining U.S. cities were Austin, Boston, Denver, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“The cities that take the lead on sustainability today will have a competitive edge as the economy shifts to a low-carbon, more sustainable future,” said Rob Bernard, chief sustainability officer at CBRE. “With over 50 per cent of the world’s population living in cities, cities will be critical in driving sustainability and helping communities adapt to climate risks.”

Like many of the other top performers, Ottawa has set a goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s also in the unique position where 94 per cent of power used in the city already comes from renewable energy sources, primarily hydro, the report showed. 

“The city has implemented several initiatives to address climate change, promote sustainability, and decarbonize the built environment,” the report said. 

While Ottawa is susceptible to extreme weather events such as winter storms, flooding and tornadoes, it performed well in most other categories, the report found. 

Air quality, for example, has reportedly improved in recent years. While Ottawa’s water stress (water demand that outstrips supply) is largely unchanged, the city’s number of heating degree days decreased. The report also highlighted the city’s “strong green bond program,” which it said helps fund local climate projects, contributing to resilience. 

Climate change is a top-of-mind issue for real estate investors and occupiers, according to CBRE. In a CBRE survey, nearly 70 per cent of commercial real estate investors claimed reducing greenhouse gas emissions was a top organizational goal. 

“The commercial real estate industry will play a large role in cities’ ability to achieve their emission reduction targets,” the survey said. “Decarbonizing the built environment will play a crucial role in helping cities reach greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals.”

Buildings account for 39 per cent of energy emissions worldwide, with 28 per cent coming from operational emissions (heating, cooling and power), and 11 per cent from materials and construction. 

Developers in Ottawa have already begun prioritizing net-zero efforts into their developments to reduce their emissions and improve the efficiency and longevity of buildings. 

Peter Busby, global design principal at Ottawa-based architecture firm Perkins&Will, told OBJ last year that while high-cost sustainable technologies can be a hard sell for some developers, attitudes have changed in recent years. 

“It’s mainly the marketplace,” he said. “That’s the thing that’s been holding us back … (but) it’s becoming easier and more accessible. Developers across the country now are really getting it and want to do low carbon. They see climate change as a threat to their business.”

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