Citizen Action Monitor

Emission reductions in Ontario municipalities offset on national level by increases in Alberta tar sands

Ontario university prof develops new tool to help municipalities identify future climate risks

No 897 Posted by fw, October 29, 2013

“ ‘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….If you ask my personal opinion, I think we’ve missed the boat for mitigation [of climate change]…. We’ll be dealing more and more, I think, with adaptation.’”CATCH News (Hamilton)

Forward and backward on climate by CATCH News (Hamilton), October 28, 2013

While city council adopts more aggressive reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions in Hamilton, Environment Canada reports that the progress across Ontario is being cancelled out by expansion of the Alberta oil (tar) sands. That message was underlined in a lecture last week at the McMaster Innovation Park which stressed that cities are facing the worst effects of climate change but have only limited ability to tackle the causes.

staff report that the city has nearly reached its modest emission reduction targets for 2020 helped convince councillors to endorse a goal of 80 percent 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 that are still 37 years in the future looks easy, but changes already in place by the end of last year had lowered the city government’s emissions by slightly less than 20 percent 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 most recent 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 percent 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 percent but its total greenhouse gas emissions actually fell by 3.4 percent – a reduction of more than 25 percent per person! In the same period Alberta’s emissions jumped 46 percent, 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 percent 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 with per capita emissions in Alberta now more than five times those of Ontarians and a massive push underway for more oil pipelines like the controversial Line 9, the national picture remains bleak. 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 percent 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  SaskatchewanManitobanorthern OntarioQuebecAlberta 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 percent” in the likely magnitude of flooding which has the Thames River conservation authority and municipal officials redrawing flood plain boundaries.  And that could mean large areas where development is off-limits.

Current rules forbid development on lands likely to flood in a 100-year storm, and expansion in the 250-year regulation storm zone requiring special permission of the municipality and the conservation authority. Simonovic pointed to the relocation of a new UWO building that was a direct result of the studies he did for London.

His risk assessment methodology has been taken up by the Insurance Bureau of Canada to help it determine whose properties will be eligible for flood coverage. “The tool is ready; it’s been tested in cities across Canada”, Simonovic reports, and could help municipalities who lack the expertise to identify the risks they face.

“If you ask my personal opinion, I think we’ve missed the boat for mitigation [of climate change],” the professor responded to a question from the audience last week. “We’ll be dealing more and more, I think, with adaptation.”

On Saturday 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

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

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This entry was posted on October 29, 2013 by in climate change, counterpower of one, evidence based counterpower and tagged , , , .
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