In 2007, Toronto adopted Canada's Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emission reduction targets as its own. The city would strive to reach a 6% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels by 2012. A recent progress report from city staff shows that the city met the target with flying colours.
In fact, Toronto is already halfway to the 2020 target of 30% below 1990 levels.
Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 15% from 1990 levels and per capita emissions have fallen by 26%. Meanwhile, the city has grown and expanded, demonstrating that greenhouse gas emissions can shrink while a city grows.
Toronto’s success so far has largely come on the coattails of the largest climate change initiative in North America; the province of Ontario is shutting down all of its coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014. As the coal plants have been mothballed one by one, the electricity used in Toronto has gotten cleaner.
The phase out wouldn't have been possible without the conservation measures that have caused per capita electricity use to drop 10% in the last 20 years, but new renewable energy and gas-fired power plants have also come online to fill in as the coal plants have been turned off. Natural gas is still a greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuel though, and the progress report warns that natural gas is set to become “the new coal” unless something changes.
Waste management was the other major player in Toronto's success, especially methane capture from landfills. Greenhouse gas emission from waste are down 52% largely due to better capture of methane at landfill sites.
More and better data on GHG emissions is fundamental.
As the city moves from the low hanging fruit to deeper emission reduction strategies, it would be helpful to see more regular updates on the city's greenhouse gas emissions. However, some challenges appear to stand in the way. The progress report explains that its release was delayed five years due to difficulties in obtaining updated and more detailed data from the city's major energy providers on energy consumption and related emissions. This data is fundamental. The challenges will have to be addressed as the city moves deeper into GHG emission reduction so that there can be closer feedback between the city’s GHG trends and its policies.
Interestingly, the emissions of the city were calculated using “end of pipe” methodology rather than “lifecycle” methods. Some experts say that lifecycle analysis offers a more comprehensive look at greenhouse gas emissions(1), but the city report argued that there is no standard methodology for lifecycle analysis.
To hit the 2020 target, energy efficiency and transportation measures will be key.
As Toronto forges ahead to a 30% GHG reduction by 2020, a focus on efficiency and transportation is essential. Building efficiency must be improved both by retrofitting existing buildings and by building new ones to high standards since natural gas and electricity used to heat and power Toronto homes currently accounts for 53% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
Transportation emissions are up 15% from 1990 levels and the Toronto Atmospheric Funds warns that transportation is now the largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto. To reach the 2020 target, it's obvious that there needs to be a focus on transportation and the current climate of political gridlock on the issue needs to be overcome. The city needs major investments in public transit and changes to policies to support active transportation like walking and cycling.
It is fantastic news that Toronto exceeded its climate change target for 2012, but the city still has 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to go in order to reach the 2020 target. It’s time to dig deep in efficiency and transportation to keep Toronto on track in the fight against climate change.
(1) Kennedy, Christopher, Julia Steinberger, Barrie Gasson, Yvonne Hansen, Timothy Hillman, Miroslav Havránek, Diane Pataki, Aumnad Phdungsilp, Anu Ramaswami, and Gara Villalba Mendez. "Methodology for Inventorying Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Global Cities." Energy Policy 38.9 (2010): 4828-837.