Another Canadian city has taken the step to get natural gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel, out of buildings.
This week, Montreal announced it will no longer allow gas in new buildings of up to three storeys as of October 2024, and ban the fossil fuel as of April 2025 in larger new builds. The ban will include gas-based heating and hot water systems, as well as items like barbecues and stoves. In Canada, fossil fuel-based heating systems for furnaces and water in homes and buildings make up 13 per cent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The share hits 18 per cent if you include electricity for cooking, lighting and appliances.
Natural gas is made mostly of methane, which is responsible for approximately a quarter of global warming and is over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) for the first 20 years it exists in the atmosphere. The production of natural gas is a huge source of methane leaks in Canada and the gas also produces CO2 when burned.
Natural gas has been the fossil fuel of choice in many North American homes since the 1940s. But recently, there has been a shift as cities make efforts to lower their carbon footprints and transition to heat pumps and other clean energy home heating options.
"This draft bylaw places Montreal at the forefront of North American cities committed to concrete climate action," said Marie-Noëlle Foschini, co-ordinator for the Sortons le gaz! Coalition, a group that advocates for the province to get off natural gas. Foschini said the move should inspire other municipalities in Canada to take on the challenge of decarbonizing their buildings.
This summer, Nanaimo, B.C. announced new buildings won’t be allowed to use natural gas as the primary heat source as of July 2024. Prévost, a town in Quebec with a population of around 12,000, voted in September to ban gas in new buildings and new gas appliances in existing buildings.
New York state is leading the way in America by eliminating gas hookups and gas use in new development statewide, following the lead of other U.S. cities such as Seattle. By the end of 2023, buildings shorter than seven storeys have to get off gas — larger buildings will have until 2027. With a population of almost 20 million, the commitment is a milestone in the energy transition.
Cities working towards natural gas bans have met with staunch opposition from industry lobbyists. In B.C., FortisBC (which provides most of the natural gas across the province) has lobbied municipalities and pitched the idea of "renewable natural gas," which is largely seen as a false solution and an industry attempt at greenwashing fossil fuels.
This week, Montreal announced it will no longer allow gas in new buildings of up to three storeys as of October 2024, and ban the fossil fuel as of April 2025 in larger new builds.
Alberta’s energy “war room” launched a cross-border political campaign targeting Nanaimo to reverse the move. The Canadian Energy Centre, which is a publically funded provincial corporation created by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney to protect and promote the fossil fuel industry, sent over 2,000 emails to Nanaimo city council urging its members to reverse the decision.
“Our community took action to reduce emissions in line with our climate goals by voting for zero-carbon construction — honestly, an easy action to take if we’re serious about taking responsibility for our fair share of the climate crisis,” said Nanaimo Coun. Ben Geselbracht.
“If the Alberta government thinks spamming councillors with blatantly climate-denying mail will make B.C. communities back down, they’re going to be very disappointed. This interference only strengthened our resolve.”
To Greenpeace Canada, Montreal’s ban signals another important move towards greening Canada’s buildings.
“The dominoes are beginning to fall as more and more cities are taking action to reduce emissions,” said Patrick Bonin, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada.
“Montreal is showing how it can be done with its new gas prohibition. The provincial and federal governments need to wake up and follow its lead.”
— With files from Rochelle Baker