Back in 2007 when City Council passed the Climate Change and Clean Air Action Plan, we set what seemed like an ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 6% below 1990 levels by 2012 — equivalent to Canada’s target under the Kyoto Protocol. Since then, the Federal Government has formally withdrawn from Kyoto, citing the impossibility of achieving the 6% target. So how is Toronto doing?
A progress report released by the City last week indicates that Toronto has exceeded the Kyoto target by 2.5X! GHG emissions for 2011 are estimated at 23.2 Mt, down 15% from 1990 levels. Not only have we exceeded our 2012 target, but we are halfway to the Council-approved 2020 target of 30% below 1990 levels!
So how did we get there? A full inventory report is scheduled for publication in Fall 2013, but the chart below illustrates the basic trends. Toronto’s emissions come from four major sources: electricity used in homes and buildings, natural gas used for space and water heating, gasoline/diesel used for cars and trucks, and methane emissions from our garbage as it rots in landfills. Emissions are down for all sources except transportation.
On the transportation front, emissions are up at least 15% since 1990. This is based on 2008 data as 2011 data is not yet available, so the actual increase may be even larger. Transportation is now the single largest and fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Toronto, accounting for 36% of emissions.
A major component of the overall reductions has been the ongoing coal phase out, scheduled for completion at the end of this year. As coal fired power plants have been replaced by cleaner burning natural gas plants, as well as renewable energy, the carbon intensity of our electricity supply has fallen by about 30%. However, the coal phase out would not be possible without conservation efforts to reduce overall electricity consumption. Per capita electricity consumption in Toronto has fallen by 10% over the past 20 years. As a result, overall emissions from electricity are down 26%.
One of the largest sources of GHG emissions is natural gas, which is used mainly for space & water heating. A 16% reduction in per capita natural gas use, due to ongoing conservation efforts, has led to a 3% reduction in total gas use. At the same time, the purity of the natural gas supply has improved, reducing carbon emitted per m3 of gas by 6%. These factors combined to reduce natural gas emissions by 9%.
However, the biggest element of Toronto’s success has been due to waste management. Better waste diversion through recycling and organics collection have helped. However, the larger impact has been the shift towards the use of methane capture technology at landfills. Overall waste emissions are down 52%. However, our data on waste collection is a weak link. While the City closely tracks how much waste it collects, most waste in Toronto is collected by private firms about which the City does not have adequate data to estimate emissions directly, instead assuming a constant ratio between privately and publicly collected waste.
The full inventory update planned for later this year should provide much more detailed data and analysis to help us use this data to guide future emissions reductions strategies. However, below are a few key points that I see emerging from this progress report:
- Its time to celebrate! As a city, we’ve dramatically exceeded our share of the Kyoto target, demonstrating that it is possible to reduce emissions even as the population and economy grow. Indeed, our per capita emissions have fallen by 26%!
- Its also time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Our success so far has come largely from picking the low hanging fruit (landfill methane capture), and riding the coattails of the Province’s coal phase out policy. We are halfway to the 2020 target of 30% below 1990 levels, but we still have another 4 million tonnes to go. Achieving our 2020 target will require major new investments, policies and programs.
- Transportation is key. We need to overcome the political gridlock over traffic congestion. Not only do we need major investments in public transit, and revenue sources to match, we also need major changes in policy and planning to encourage and support active transportation (i.e. walking & cycling).
- Energy efficiency in buildings is also key. Taken together, natural gas and electricity — used to heat and power our homes and buildings — account for 53% of Toronto’s emissions. In other words, the majority of emissions come from energy use in buildings. We need to make our homes, businesses, and institutions dramatically more efficient over the next 7 years. That means requiring better efficiency from new construction, and retrofitting older buildings as well.
- We need better data, released more frequently – preferably an annual snapshot with a more in-depth review every second year. We need to work with waste companies to track private waste collection and disposal. And we need to keep a close eye on transportation data and trends and make sure they are as up to date as possible. Finally, we should also consider what components of the City’s emissions data can be shared with the broader community to allow the opportunity for more minds to use the information to generate creative ways to take aim at the next tranche of emission reduction opportunities. We’re going to need all the help we can get.
Next stop 30 percent reduction at 2020!