A Climate Lens Builds Ottawa’s Economic Prosperity
BY STEVE WINKELMAN
FROM DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION to affordable housing, from tapping Ottawa’s tech prowess to building a 21st century workforce, actions to address climate change will help the city move farther, faster on all of its pressing challenges.
Look no farther than the latest tornado, ice storm, derecho, heatwave, power outage, or wildfire smoke alert for proof that climate change is an urgent issue for our city.
Our future prosperity depends on making the right moves, and making them soon. But Ottawa can also become living proof that action on climate change is about opportunity and gain, and averting future loss and pain. That filtering our biggest local issues through a climate lens helps us deliver faster, better, more affordable solutions to those priorities.
We’ll realize that actions to reduce carbon pollution and futureproof our community against mounting climate risk connect closely to our efforts to revitalize our downtown. Make housing more affordable. Refocus our high-tech acumen on a resilient, netzero future. Attract a skilled, next-generation workforce. And make Ottawa a welcoming, equitable community where no one is left out or left behind.
A focus on faster emission cuts and climate resilience may even bring us new sources of public funding and private investment. The same dollars we need to deliver on other community priorities. That’s why OCAF is planning a summit on climate action and economic prosperity, to begin translating the opportunities into an action plan.
Climate Change Means Business…and So Does Ottawa
The Ottawa Board of Trade has declared a sharp focus on city building, downtown redevelopment, and affordable housing. Each of these signature priorities underpins their vision of a healthy, thriving city—economically, socially, and environmentally.
And each of them intersects with an all-in response to climate change, both the risks Ottawa faces and the opportunities on our immediate horizon.
The risks begin with the billions of dollars’ worth of health impacts, flooded basements, infrastructure damage, and costly business interruptions that we’ll face if we don’t climate-proof our community. The opportunity lies in the 90% of local greenhouse gas emissions that trace back to buildings and transportation that need to be zeroed out by 2050¹. We envision:
- A city that operates more efficiently with reliable infrastructure, less sprawl, and low-carbon buildings that are prepared for the next flood, heatwave, or power outage;
- A healthier, more affordable and equitable city that attracts and retains a 21st century workforce;
- A vibrant business environment where start-ups can get a foothold and established companies can thrive.
The menu of solutions includes heat pumps² , deep building retrofits³, electric vehicles, 15-minute neighbourhoods⁴, carshare⁵, e-bikeshare, microgrids⁶, and more.
Prevent, Prepare, Prosper
This climate solutions agenda aligns quite well with OBOT’s citybuilding priorities.
In June, 2023, OBOT issued an urgent call for downtown revitalization. “Downtown Ottawa is the heartbeat of our whole region,” President Sueling Ching said⁷ at the time. “What happens downtown has a direct and immediate impact on every business, every citizen, and every visitor.”
Activating a dynamic city core begins with affordable, green buildings and infrastructure, making downtown Ottawa a place where people want to live, work, shop, and play. That aligns with the City’s intensification goals⁸, converting office buildings to residential, and developing neighbourhoods that are compact, walkable and resilient. Revitalization costs less than sprawl⁹, can increase return on investment in public transit, gives residents the city they want— and reduces emissions along the way.
The business community recognizes affordable housing as an urgent priority. “As Ontarians spend more of their income on housing, they have less available to spend on other goods and services, resulting in wide-ranging implications for the business community and overall economy,” the Ontario Chamber of Commerce declared10 earlier this year.
A “Fill it First”11 affordable housing strategy for Ottawa would support missing middle12 infill and secondary suites to create practical and attractive choices for more owners and renters. Climate performance criteria for buildings and neighbourhoods, old and new, can tackle the largest emissions sources, give folks a break on their energy bills, create decades of demand for a skilled, local, green workforce—and leverage significant public funding for building retrofits.
Energy and Resilience Beyond the Building
Green resilience13 measures for energy, transportation, and flood mitigation save money, time, and carbon by building right the first time. Beyond-the-building solutions such as district energy14, microgrids, community solar15, and green infrastructure16 yield economies of scale. They keep the lights on, our businesses running, our homes safely heated or cooled, our basements dry.
The 21st Century Workforce
A climate lens will help Ottawa attract and retain the smart, skilled workforce it needs to compete and win in a tough global marketplace.
A large proportion of younger workers want jobs that match their environmental values and address their alarm17 about a future of climate chaos. They want walkable, vibrant neighbourhoods with housing they can afford.
A climate lens for our city’s business sector will help deliver the affordable, energy-efficient homes they need and the climate-forward jobs they want.
The Next Tech Wave
Ottawa’s tech sector and post-secondary institutions always do best when they can anticipate the next wave of demand for tech-enabled products and services.
The multiple, fast transitions to get climate change under control are one of the century’s biggest business and investment opportunities, with trillions of dollars per year in play for electrification, efficiency, and renewables18. With a new menu of federal tax credits on offer, communities across Canada are stepping up. Downtown Ottawa and critical hubs such as Kanata North can lead a wave of technology development and deployment that spans electric vehicles, vehicle-togrid technologies, energy storage and management, modular construction and more.
Future Proofing and Shaping the Future
Ottawa must prepare for the impacts of climate change and dramatically reduce its carbon emissions. That’s an opportunity to attract new investment, launch new businesses, create good, green jobs, and build the physical and social infrastructure on which everything else depends.
That’s why OCAF is engaging with the Board of Trade and other local economic leaders to explore these questions:
How do we position Ottawa’s tech sector, colleges and universities as leaders in climate-smart cities and energy resilience?
What innovative strategies will accelerate our construction sector’s transition to net-zero, resilient, affordable housing?
How can we build Ottawa’s “green pipeline” of local low-carbon investment opportunities?
How do we redesign our neighbourhoods to be vibrant, efficient, resilient and low-carbon?
How can we revitalize downtown to attract residents, workers, and businesses by converting empty offices into housing?
Contact us today at OCAF@ocf-fco.ca to find out more or get involved with OCAF’s upcoming summit on climate action and economic prosperity. Carbon Down. Community Up.