Climate Meeting # 13 - Calgary Approvals Coordination
Climate Meeting – Approvals Coordination
How we design and build our cities has one of the most significant impacts on emissions and climate resiliency. The layout and density influences how we travel (transportation contribute 34% of our emissions), and buildings generate up to 40% of annual global GHG emissions. A significant shift in energy efficiency is required to meet emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. Embodied carbon (the sum of all the energy required to produce goods or services) is 1/4 of annual building sector emissions, and growing.
I recently met with Approvals Coordination team, a division of the Planning department, to learn more about their progress as mandated in the Climate Resiliency Strategy. Calgary Approvals Coordination oversees the process for development applications and is key to reducing GHG emissions and promoting sustainable development. They work closely with stakeholders and developers to ensure that our City is the best place to invest and build. Their primary focus is to develop a high quality and efficient applications process.
In the Climate Resiliency Strategy, Approvals Coordination has two actions items to enable innovation between The City and the private sector. First, they must collaborate with the private sector to encourage new GHG reduction projects. They have the permission to be innovative. Second, they must provide process support to development projects that aim to achieve the highest levels of energy innovation, performance, and GHG reduction.
1. Training on Climate Resiliency:
Calgary Approvals Coordination provided staff training on the Climate Resiliency Strategy and Planning’s role on climate-positive outcomes to the forefront of their work. They explained that planners and engineers are “generalists” that must draw on a wide variety of skills to evaluate applications. In addition to planners and engineers, training was also offered to the staff that examines the plans as well as field inspectors.
2. Making Changes to the Approvals Process:
Approvals Coordination recently developed an incentive for GHG emission reduction projects. This means that more climate-friendly projects are prioritised in the applications process.
In May 2020, Climate Resilience Inventory forms were introduced into the applications process. Applicants must now identify measures they are providing in support of achieving the City’s climate targets in their projects. Unfortunately, measures are voluntary.
All reports to Calgary Planning Commission (an independent body of planning experts that makes recommendations and/or approval decisions on major development projects) must now include a climate resiliency overview that describes how the presented application addresses climate change.
Approvals Coordination works with BILD (a development industry advocacy organization) and NAIOP (a commercial real estate advocacy organization) to help deliver on climate objectives.
Some examples of projects include:
- Arts Commons Transformation Project, the Event Centre and BMO Expansion are all following The City’s Sustainable Building Policy that specifies minimum performance requirements.
- Midfield Heights redevelopment has completed a Low Carbon Energy Feasibility study, and the project team is now exploring options to support its implementation.
- New Area Structure Plans require a Climate review, although specific metrics are lacking.
What’s not working?
1. Measuring Outcomes
While Approvals Coordination has shifted focus from speed of application to more quality outcome measures focused on urban design, considerations on climate are in the infancy stage and lag far behind other large Canadian cities. They have not yet created specific metrics to measure how well projects are helping or hurting climate and emissions goals.
Approvals Coordination participates in benchmarking (comparing jurisdiction to jurisdiction) networks including the Municipal Benchmarking Network (MBN). Standard benchmarking metrics focused on climate outcomes is still lacking for the planning field.
3. Not a requirement, but an incentive
While Approvals Coordination encourages applicants to take climate positive actions on projects, it is largely voluntary and therefore not enforceable.
4. Shifting Investment Priorities
The City must support growth in strategic areas of the city that enable lower carbon intensity (higher density and greater mobility choice). It is easier to require applicants to reduce their development’s carbon footprint if the infrastructure that enables mobility choice is present.
Approvals Coordination is working on systemic changes that support Calgary in achieving the best possible climate outcomes. They are working to focus more on outcomes, rather than process minutia, of which climate resiliency is key. However, small and incremental changes are still essential and need a stronger focus in the Planning department more generally.
While we are working to transform The City’s processes to ensure they achieve climate resiliency on a macro scale, this is a big task. Rather than small, tentative steps, we should be further ahead when it comes to climate action.