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By 2025, municipalities representing about half the population of Quebec will significantly slash the number of new buildings heated by fossil fuels. Buildings under three storeys will not use any fossil fuels, however, there is an allowance for larger buildings to use renewable natural gas.

The council of the Metropolitan Community of Montreal announced last week that it passed a resolution to ban the installation of space and water heating powered by fossil fuels in residential, commercial and institutional buildings. The council, representing 82 municipalities, sent the draft regulation to Quebec’s environment ministry for approval and aims to have it in place by January 2025. Before then, there will be information sessions for municipalities.

There are certain areas where municipalities can make a dent in emissions. After transport, “it is the building sector which tops the list,” explained Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who is also president of the council.

In Canada, fossil fuel-based heating systems in 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.

The resolution will apply to 79 municipalities since a few that are part of the council have already taken the step. Notably, Montreal announced it will no longer allow gas in new buildings of up to three storeys as of October 2024, and will ban the fossil fuel as of April 2025 in larger new builds. Candiac and Mont-Saint-Hilaire also have bylaws in place.

The resolution is “major news,” explained Andréanne Brazeau, climate policy analyst at Équiterre, who noted that municipalities taking the reins to decarbonize the building sector sends a strong signal to the Quebec government.

“We are waiting for the Quebec government to put forward such regulation for the entire province. We were actually expecting it to be announced at COP28 in December, and it still hasn't come out,” she said. “But this news really shows that the municipal level is ready for it and it's not going to wait for the Quebec government.”

According to the council, the regulation will lead to 500,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions being avoided by 2035 — the equivalent emissions of over 100,000 gasoline-powered cars being driven for a year.

In an emailed statement, Émilie Charbonneau, environmental adviser for the council, explained that their regulation is “largely inspired by Montreal’s.” There are a few differences: Montreal’s ban includes barbecues and stoves, which the council will still allow. Another key difference is that renewable natural gas will be allowed in buildings over three storeys.

The resolution is “major news,” explained @andreannebraz of @equiterre, who noted that municipalities taking the reins to decarbonize the building sector sends a strong signal to the Quebec government.

Renewable natural gas (RNG), which is made from organic waste instead of fossil deposits, is not a climate solution, explains Brazeau: although it comes from different sources than typical natural gas, it still releases emissions. It is largely seen as a false solution and an industry attempt at greenwashing fossil fuels.

While Brazeau describes allowing any gas as a “red flag,” Équiterre acknowledges that harder-to-decarbonize buildings might need to rely on RNG in the short term. However, “what we recommend is that [the council] set a yearly or periodic review of the regulation to eventually also ban renewable natural gas in the long-run, because it's not compatible with achieving net zero.”

Municipalities taking the lead

The council banning fossil fuels in new buildings fits into a broader move in North America of municipalities working to reduce emissions from the building sector. 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.

Last summer, Nanaimo, B.C., announced new buildings won’t be allowed to use natural gas as a primary heat source as of July 2024. Vancouver was on the path to ban natural gas stoves and fireplaces before its city council rejected the motion to ban natural gas hookups in new buildings in May 2023.

Quebec doesn’t face the same natural gas lobby as British Columbia, nor does it rely on the fossil fuel as heavily. According to Statistics Canada, about two-thirds of the households in Quebec use either electric baseboard heaters or electric radiant heating. In comparison, over 50 per cent of homes in B.C. use natural gas for heat.

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Congratulations to the campaign « Pas de méthane dans ma cabane »(No methane in my home). These are the concrete results of our efforts to reduce the use of fracked gas sold by Énergir , our local gas utility

OK Alberta Municipalities, get it passed before Big Sister and Big Brother DP prohibit what they would call Provincial Responsibility. And dismiss the Councilors for not acting in the public interest. My goodness freedom to think and act is endangered in Alberta

Before these municipalities enact these policies they need to get approval from the Premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith.

Is this a typo? The share [of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels] hits 18 per cent if you include electricity for cooking, lighting and appliances. Do you mean, if you include gas for these purposes?