Thursday March 21, 2024

Does a Natural Gas Ban Fit Into Canada’s Net-Zero Future?

What lessons can Canada learn from natural gas bans in other parts of the world?

Montreal, New York City, and Vancouver are the latest additions to a growing list of cities across North America banning natural gas in new buildings. The move—intended to combat rising building emissions by replacing oil and gas with zero-emission heating systems—has been met with everything from enthusiasm to outrage, as building developers and policymakers grapple with how to meet heating needs while driving down building emissions by 2050.

The phaseout of natural gas, which experts acknowledge is critical to meeting net zero goals, faces a bumpy road. From the U.S. to Europe, concerns have been raised around the readiness of regional grids to handle a surge in electricity demand, while energy incumbents are highlighting the benefits of burning natural gas over oil, and state and provincial governments are clashing with municipalities on whether—and how—to get off gas.

What lessons can Canada learn from natural gas bans in other parts of the world? Is banning natural gas in new construction a viable decarbonization pathway for Canadian municipalities? The Transition Accelerator held a timely discussion on the use of natural gas in building electrification, highlighting best practices from other countries at the forefront of the transition.

Co-presented by the Building Decarbonization Alliance, an initiative of the Transition Accelerator aimed at accelerating the electrification of Canada’s buildings. For an in-depth look at how governments across Canada, the US, and Europe are currently using policy to transition building heating towards non-emitting energy sources, be sure to read their recently released Jurisdictional Scan: Building Heating Decarbonization.

Webinar Summary

Is a natural gas ban an effective tool in the race to decarbonize buildings? Gas bans are complex and polarizing, effective in some cities like Montreal, divisive in others (Berkeley, California’s gas ban was quickly overturned).

Transitioning off fossil fuels, including the ones we burn to heat homes and buildings across the country, is a necessary step for Canada to reach its climate goals. While bans elicit a range of complicated reactions, the health, economic, and climate benefits of electrified, gas-free buildings is much clearer, shared experts on this webinar.

Read on for highlights from our discussion with experts from RMI, Climate Action Network Europe, the Canadian Gas Association, and the Building Decarbonization Alliance debated how, and if, gas bans fit into building decarbonization efforts.

“In the United States today, there’s no significant difference in the cost to build an all-electric, zero-emission home,” says Russel Unger, Principal for Carbon-Free Buildings at RMI, while also noting the relatively minor grid impacts of electrifying new residential buildings. Unger says many U.S. homeowners don’t really care how their home is heated—they just want it to be warm enough. “There’s nothing to stop us going forward with building all-electric emission-free buildings today.”

“The moment you start talking about removing any kind of choice, you’re going to spark an emotional reaction. So fundamentally we think of a ban as the wrong way,” says Paul Cheliak, Vice President of Strategy and Delivery at the Canadian Gas Association, who raised questions about market response and grid readiness for fully electrified buildings.

“The business case for building electrification makes a lot of financial sense with savings essentially starting on day one,” shared Matt Poirier, Policy Director at the Building Decarbonization Alliance, a non-partisan and cross-sector coalition working to accelerate the transition to electrified buildings.

This conversation isn’t only about heating, according to Mónica Vidal Sánchez, Campaigns Coordinator for Climate Action Network Europe. “We need to talk about the people really using these systems,” stresses Sánchez. “In countries like Spain, people are choosing a heat pump for new builds. Why? Because in Spain, cooling needs are even more important than heating.”


Dan Wicklum, PhD


Dr. Dan Wicklum has spent more than 25 years performing and managing research, driving innovation, and fostering collaboration between industry, government, academia, and civil society. He is the CEO of the Transition Accelerator, a pan-Canadian charity that works with groups across the country to solve business and social challenges while building in net zero emission solutions. Dan was also the inaugural co-chair of Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Body (NZAB), the statutory independent body that advises the federal government on setting interim emission reduction targets on the way to a net-zero emission Canada by 2050 and on the most likely pathways to net zero.

Prior to joining the Transition Accelerator, Dan was the CEO of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Executive Director of the Canadian Forest Innovation Council, and a senior manager at Environment and Climate Change Canada and at Natural Resources Canada. He was a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Montana, and holds a PhD in Aquatic Ecology from the University of Montana. His initial career was in professional football, as a linebacker for the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.



Mathieu Poirier

Director of Policy – Building Decarbonization Alliance

Matt prides himself on translating research findings into actionable solutions that support the clean energy transition. He brings over 10 years of experience working with governments, utilities, and industry to decarbonize the built environment. Before this role, Matt held consulting roles at Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors and Deloitte and worked in industry and non-profit organizations focusing on green building design and legal analysis. He holds degrees in mechanical engineering and psychology from the University of Waterloo, in law, with specializations in environmental and business law, from Dalhousie University, and he also holds an MBA from Saint Mary’s University.


Mónica Vidal Sánchez

Campaigns Coordinator, Climate Action Network Europe

Mónica Vidal Sánchez is the Campaigns Coordinator at Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, with over 15 years’ experience leading initiatives to decarbonize buildings and promote sustainable heating solutions across Europe, such as #WarmHomes4ALL & #BuildBetterLives. Previously, she was the director of the public policy and climate governance programme at ECODES, a Spanish NGO shaping energy policy across Europe and fostering collaboration between business, NGOs and policymakers. Her academic background is in Environmental Sciences with a Masters in Industrial Ecology.


Paul Cheliak

Vice President, Strategy and Delivery, Canadian Gas Association

Paul Cheliak is the Vice President of Strategy and Delivery Public and Regulatory Affairs with the Canadian Gas Association in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The CGA is the national voice for Canada’s natural gas distribution companies who deliver gas energy to over 25 million Canadians.  Paul leads CGA’s overall business strategy with members and develops the thinking behind the future of the regulated energy delivery industry in Canada. Prior to joining CGA, Paul worked with Natural Resources Canada – Canada’s federal resource department – providing natural gas market and policy advice to the Department’s senior management and also with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on an Indigenous commercial fisheries program. Paul lives in Ottawa with his wife and two daughters and is an avid (but not necessarily successful) fisherman.


Russell Unger

Principal, Rocky Mountain Institute

Russell leads single-family strategy for RMI’s Carbon-Free Buildings program. Before joining RMI, Russell devoted 20 years to advancing environmental and social justice policy in New York. As the Founding Executive Director of Urban Green Council, Russell steered two citywide commissions on green building and resiliency, resulting in over 60 significant code revisions. His prior roles at the New York City Council and Mayor’s Office focused on sustainability, incarceration practices, and fire safety.



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