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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the focus on existing commercial and institutional structures is part of a broader effort to reduce GHGs from residential and non-residential buildings, which account for 17 per cent of the country’s emissions.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is ramping up its effort to encourage building owners to invest in energy retrofits, as one industry group reports Canadians could save money while cutting greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings by 50 per cent in the next dozen years.

Ottawa is working with provinces to announce measures this fall for retrofitting non-residential buildings as well as support for individual homeowners. It is also developing standards to provide landlords and their lenders some assurance that investments will yield the promised reductions in emissions and energy costs.

The building sector was one of several targeted under the federal-provincial-territorial clean energy and climate agreement reached last December.

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In a report released Wednesday, the Canada Green Building Council said the country could reduce its emissions 51 per cent by 2030 – easily exceeding the government's target of 30 per cent – if owners worked with government and investors to revamp their energy consumption.

The effort would include investments in modern heating and cooling systems for aging office towers and factories; the installation of new windows, insulation and lighting, and spending on renewable energy systems that would reduce consumption of electricity and natural gas from utilities.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the focus on existing commercial and institutional structures is part of a broader effort to reduce GHGs from residential and non-residential buildings, which account for 17 per cent of the country's emissions.

"All across the board, we're thinking about how do we create the right incentives," she said Tuesday during a visit to New York for a week-long series of climate-change events coinciding with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

The government is still in talks with provinces on how it will encourage the investment in building efficiency and low-carbon energy use.

"How do we help support companies, businesses on retrofits? That can be through our infrastructure bank, looking at large retrofits and creating the financing opportunities," she said.

The federal government – one of the largest building owners in the country – has embarked on its own plan to upgrade energy systems, including the recent announcement of a district heating project for a cluster of buildings in Ottawa.

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It estimates the energy used for heating and cooling buildings accounts for 12 per cent of Canada's annual emissions of greenhouse gases, a figure that rises to 17 per cent when electricity is included.

The federal and provincial governments are planning to issue tougher codes for new buildings in the coming years but that will make a small dent in emissions, given the longevity of existing structures.

"We need action in the existing building sector," council president Thomas Mueller said. "But it requires federal and provincial governments working on progressive policies to make that happen, and to provide opportunity and incentives for investments in retrofits."

He said the types of investment proposed by the council would be profitable over time, with payback periods ranging from 18 months to several years.

Mr. Mueller said Canadian pension funds have been major investors in LEED-certified buildings, and could play a key role in providing the financing for energy-efficiency retrofits that have long-term payoffs.

The council pioneered the implementation of the LEED program, which provides green certification for new buildings. The industry also has standards for LEED certification for existing buildings.

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With a report from Michelle Zilio in New York.

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