Tag Archives: climate crisis

Lloyd Alter: Groundbreaking Study Highlights How Design and Development Decisions Affect Embodied Carbon


Groundbreaking study on embodied carbon comparing new build to retrofit and addition in Halifax Canada ignored by city, author told to ‘stop making things up.” Should be studied closely, big implications.” writes Lloyd Alter, well-known author at Treehugger in a review of the new report, Buildings For a Climate Crisis, by Peggy Cameron. “The lessons of a study from Halifax, Canada can be applied anywhere,”

Read Alter’s review of the study.

Download Buildings For the Climate Crisis

Image: Halifax Waterfront. Henryk Sadura/ Getty Images

Alter writes: Many booming cities are desperately short of housing and developers are responding with even taller buildings. Many urbanists believe this is a good thing, although studies have shown that life-cycle and operating emissions increase with building height. This is why I have always pitched what I called the “Goldilocks Density,” making the case that you can get significant residential densities without tall buildings—just look at Paris or Montreal.

Buildings For the Climate Crisis – A Halifax Case Study by Peggy Cameron

This new report “Buildings for the Climate Crisis – A Halifax Case Studyby Peggy Cameron, MES reveals the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) released up-front by high rise construction, developments, and demolitions. By comparing these to more climate-friendly in-fill buildings (carbon-neutral or carbon-positive) it offers scenarios that are better matched for what society and Earth need at this time.

For the report a Canadian interdisciplinary climate change strategy consultancy Mantle Developments, conducted preliminary estimates of global warming gases associated with:
— two Halifax based proposals;
— the associated demolition of 12-14 historic houses;
— the replacement of the demolished floor area, equivalent to a 12-storey building and,
— a 9-storey in-fill option modeled by the citizen’s group Development Options Halifax.
The report details impacts of the present developments and associated demolitions on the climate crisis and links this to the affordable housing crisis.

This report proposes options in the path forward including policy recommendations for what needs to change if we are planning for an inclusive society and for environmental remediation. With the release of this report the author aims to encourage all parties to seize this important and timely opportunity to re-think accepted practices of the building, construction, and demolition industry.

Globally, green houses gasses (GHG’s) from the materials and products used to build buildings is 11% as embodied or upfront carbon and approximately 29% as operational carbon from heating, lighting and cooling.



Download Full Report:
Buildings for the Climate Crisis

Download Executive Summary:
Buildings For the Climate Crisis
-Executive Summary

Download for Policy Makers:
Building For the Climate Crisis –
The Path Forward and Recommendation

Media Images Downloads:

RALPH SURETTE: The lowdown on high-rises: they fuel the climate crisis

(published in The Chronicle Herald, October 28, 2021)

(Halifax/Ki’jupuk) A global environment conference called COP26 is opening this weekend in Scotland to deal with the climate crisis that the world promised to deal with as far back as the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, but has so far failed to control.  Some progress is being made, but far from enough to prevent more climate catastrophes, and in many ways it’s getting worse.

A construction crane dominates a neighbourhood at the foot of Quinpool Road (at the North West Arm) in Halifax in June. – Tim Krochak, Chronicle Herald

So perhaps the climate showdown we’ve avoided for so long is on for real. And in order to deal with it, every aspect of the wasteful ways we’ve built up since the 1950s have to be reamed out. Some of these, we don’t even think about, and may even be wrongly presented as the climate-friendly option.

One of these is highlighted in a report entitled Buildings for the Climate Crisis — A Halifax Case Study (at www.halifaxcommon.ca), coinciding with HRM council passing their complex “Centre Plan” this week that limits heights on the Halifax peninsula, but which opponents argue leaves developers wiggle room to jack them up to 30 storeys.

The standard presumption is that high-rises, by creating a dense population downtown, put a check on urban sprawl — which also means less commuting and suburban highways, thus better for the environment.

There’s increasing pushback on this. For one thing, according to the scientific calculations, building above eight or nine storeys is extremely carbon-intensive. So is the demolition of existing buildings to make way for these huge projects. And finally, since high-rise towers tend to have expensive rents, they also replace affordable housing, and that tends to push lower-income renters farther out, defeating the purpose.

Overall, buildings account for some 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Concern over this has focused on their operations — mainly heating and cooling — but has ignored the construction/demolition cycle, although it accounts for as much as 11 per cent of global emissions.

So if you need housing — and we do — what’s the alternative? The alternative, according to this and other studies, is “low-rise,” in which pretty well as many units are created (and preserved) as what the high-rise would offer, at lower cost and drastically reduced emissions — plus preserving some of the character of the city. 

Another study I found, by American and British researchers (available at APJ Urban Sustainability, an online magazine), which proposes to “decouple density from tallness” fingered Paris as an example of high-density, low-rise decent living. As in most European cities that are careful about their heritage, there’s hardly one apartment building over 10 storeys in the city.

The Halifax report outlines its own low-rise proposal for the areas in question in HRM’s Centre Plan and beyond. Although the high-rise philosophy still dominates in the world (taken to absurdity in Saudi Arabia, where they’re building a vanity tower one kilometre high), many cities are also turning away from it, notably Tokyo, as of now the world’s largest city. In addition to keeping apartment towers below nine or 10 storeys, low-rise involves renovating and expanding existing buildings: in Halifax, for example, adding a third storey to existing houses where it’s fitting, and other inventive ways to add an apartment here and there, and “in-filling’” — that is, building new units on empty spaces, of which there are a surprising number even on the peninsula, according to the report.

At any rate, it’s about stopping the rampant demolition, of which Halifax may be a champion. Between 2003 and 2020 some 2,535 demolition permits were handed out in HRM — many of them for historic buildings — with a floor space that would cover 17 city blocks, according to the report. 

And the tempo is increasing. The Royal Institute of British Architects has just put out a call to “stop the demolition” in Britain because it causes too many carbon emissions.

The report also states that low-rise is just as profitable for developers, as the materials are cheaper and the work is done faster. But, of course, it’s not as sexy and probably not as useful as a long-term investment. And Halifax, in its developer-ridden soul, wants stuff sticking in the air like the big boys. Or does it?

The Halifax report was prepared by the Friends of the Commons and Development Options Halifax, two citizens’ groups, with carbon calculations by Mantle Developments, an Ontario-based sustainable-construction consultancy.

And, yes, I know what some of you are thinking: isn’t that the gang that’s always agitating against development, if not “progress” itself in Halifax? If so, get over it. The progress you’re talking about is what brought us to this climate crisis, and is in bad odour at COP26 and beyond. You’re on the wrong side of history. Stop the demolition.