While city council adopts more aggressive reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions in Hamilton, Environment Canada reports that the progress across Ontario is being overwhelmed by Alberta oil (tar) sands expansion. That message was underlined in a lecture last week which stressed that cities are facing the worst effects of climate change but have only limited ability to tackle the causes.
A staff report that the city has nearly reached its modest emission reduction targets helped convince councillors to endorse an goal of 80 per cent cuts in greenhouse gases by 2050 and “pending identification of a funding source” to work with community partners on an “action plan” that will identify new targets. Selecting objectives 37 years in the future looks easy, but changes already in place by the end of 2012 had lowered the city government’s emissions by slightly less than 20 per cent since 2005.
That was the city’s 2020 target and matches the official national objective set by the federal Conservative government which it almost certainly won’t achieve according to the Environment Canada analysis released three days after Hamilton’s new goal was approved. The federal target is far short of Canada’s Kyoto promise of 6 per cent below 1990 emission levels, but is still out of reach despite dramatic cuts in Ontario and some other parts of the country.
Between 1990 and 2011 Ontario’s population increased nearly 30 per cent but its total greenhouse gas emissions actually fell by 3.4 per cent – a reduction of more than 25 per cent per person! In the same period Alberta’s emissions jumped 46 per cent, primarily because of expansion of the oil (tar) sands, and there are approved plans to double that production by 2020.
Shutting down coal–fired power stations has been the main reason for Ontario’s reductions, but conservation and improved efficiencies in both households and businesses have contributed significantly alongside industrial shutdowns. In 2005, a quarter of Ontario’s electricity came from coal–fired plants; but that was down to 3.4 per cent last year and is scheduled to be zero in 2014 making the province one of the first large jurisdictions in the world to eliminate coal–generated power.
The province’s Green Energy Plan and Feed–In Tariff initiatives have also contributed to Ontario’s achievement, but the national picture remains bleak with Alberta per capita emissions now more than five times those of Ontarians and a massive push underway for more oil pipelines like the controversial Line 9. Environment Canada’s annual emissions report says 2011 emissions totalled 702 megatonnes and will climb to 734 mt by 2020 unless new government policies change sharply – 24 per cent higher than the 1990 level of 591 mt.
That will likely guarantee increasingly extreme weather such as the record flooding that has hit parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Toronto so far this year. And local governments are bearing the brunt of the cost of these climatic changes, despite having limited taxation powers, suggested Dr Slobodan Simonovic in a talk last week on “Floods in a Changing Climate” sponsored by the McMaster Centre for Climate Change.
“Municipalities are not locations where major mitigation measures are going to be developed,” the University of Western Ontario civil engineer noted. “This needs to be led by the international community, by the national governments and then kind of go down to lower levels. However, municipalities are where the rubber hits the road.”
Simonovic’s studies in London have shown an “increase of approximately 20 to 25 per cent” in the likely magnitude of flooding.
On November 3 night, a free film on how to effectively deal with climate change is being shown by Dundas in Transition in St James Anglican Church (137 Melville Street) starting at 7 pm. V