Nailed it! Toronto exceeds Kyoto target

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 Since then, the Federal Government has formally withdrawn from Kyoto, citing the impossibility of achieving the 6% target.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.

Major reductions in emissions from waste and electricity have offset an increase in transportation emissions

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 As coal fired power plants have been replaced by cleaner burning natural gas plants, as well as renewable energy, the carbon intensity of our electricity supply has fallen by about 30%.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%.

A 10% reduction in per capita electricity use combined with a 30% reduction in the carbon intensity of our electricity supply led to steep reductions in GHG emissions

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%.

Significant reductions in per capita natural gas use combined with a cleaner supply led to 9% reductions in GHG emissions from natural gas

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!

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18 Responses to Nailed it! Toronto exceeds Kyoto target

  1. Clara Puskas says:

    This is a fantastic news and achievement, we should be proud of. Especially since we were pulled out of Kyoto by the present government . I certainly will share with everyone I know, and will continue to follow and support the work towards the next set of goals.

  2. Sandra Iseman says:

    I’m just wondering what happens when you include natural land conversion into this equation. With all the forests, wetlands, and fields converted into housing and commercial, retail, employment land use, does this alter the results of CO2e? Sorry, not trying to rain on your parade — it’s definitely a huge win for Toronto, Canada, and the world, but is it an accurate reflection of true GHG emissions? Or is that simply a fault with the standards being used to measure emissions?

    • Bryan Purcell says:

      Sandra – Thanks for the insightful comment. As you point out, how & what you measure has a lot of implications for the results – and for the actions we take as a result of the information. When the City’s full inventory report is completed later this year, it will provide full details about the methodology. The short answer to your question is that Toronto’s GHG emissions inventory does not include estimated GHG impacts from land-use changes within the City. However, the City’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division does monitor and assess changes to the city’s tree canopy and associated environmental impacts. Toronto has an estimated 10.2 million trees, the canopy from which covers 20% of the city, down about 0.7% since 1999. Net carbon sequestration from these trees is estimated at 36,500 metric tonnes annually. The City’s official goal is to increase the tree canopy to cover 30-40% of the City by 2050, and to that end the City and its partners plant an average of 82,000 trees annually. For more information, see the the City’s Every Tree Counts report at

  3. Sharon Howarth says:

    Yipeee !! We can do it once people understand the stakes. Congratulations and let’s keep going.

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  16. Charles Williams says:

    If our Governments can’t stop nuclear power then people can buy solar panels on there homes and get electric cars and the more that make it trendy the more wiĺl follow suit so good luck in hitting the target Ontario is putting g way to much GHGs in the Air 600,000,000 kilos into the air and Sarnia alone is insane