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City emissions decline

Nov 06, 2017

The city says it is back on track in reducing the pollutants that cause climate change but so far most of the cuts have come from local industry. Air quality and climate change coordinator Trevor Imhoff reported last month that overall community greenhouse gas emissions have fallen twenty percent in the last decade although residential and commercial sector reductions have stalled since 2012 and transportation emissions are on their way up.

The numbers show little progress in the sectors where the city can provide the most assistance to local residents such as alternatives to driving and cuts to home energy use. Imhoff suggested “implementing programs that other municipalities have such as a HERO [Home Energy Retrofit Opportunity advocated by Environment Hamilton] or energy retrofit loan type of program would help to reduce those emissions that we can control.”

Emissions from home energy consumption are down about 12 percent since 2006, but that achievement is unchanged from 2012 and appears to be largely because the province shut down its coal-fired plants thereby cutting CO2 pollution for all electricity consumers. Transportation emissions, on the other hand, are up nearly 10 percent and were continuing to rise in 2015 – the last year covered by the report.

These are estimates rather than actual measurements calculated using Ontario data “prorated based on Hamilton’s population”. Three-quarters are attributed to personal vehicles, but the numbers also estimate an eight percent contribution from air travel and five percent from trains – again estimated based on local population.

There’s also been little progress on commercial greenhouse gas emissions. They’re currently down only seven percent since 2006 despite an earlier reported cut of 16 percent.

Nearly four-fifths of Hamilton’s emissions are from industrial sources, with the steel sector alone comprising a third of those. Steel is lower by 31 percent since 2006. The rest of the industrial sector is down 17 percent. But again, that’s much less than the 30 percent reduction reported for 2012. That caught the attention of councillor Matt Green who asked “why the trend back up”.

Imhoff said the first few years of emission reductions were “a result of a lot of automation that occurred within the industrial field” and that “the weather helped” too. That progress was reversed he said “due to colder winters in 2013 and 2014”. Green pointed to “the unpredictability of climate change” and asked how the city hopes to reach the 50 percent reduction target by 2030.

Imhoff acknowledged that further technology advances are assumed but noted that “the municipality has no control over the industrial emissions or the technologies they implement.”    

The report calls Hamilton’s targets “ambitious” and says that they “align with the Province of Ontario’s targets” although the two jurisdictions are using different baselines. While both aim for 80 percent cuts by 2050, Ontario’s target is based on the international standard base year of 1990, while Hamilton’s are measured against 2006 when Canadian levels were about substantially higher.

The report warns that climate change already is having “widespread impacts on human and natural systems both globally and at a local scale” and points to an assessment of what’s likely in store for Hamilton. That includes “heat days causing drought; microbursts of precipitation causing floods; and extreme weather events such as wind and ice storms.”

A United Nations analysis issued last week said that current global promises to reduce the carbon pollution causing climate change are far from enough to prevent dangerous warming. “We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” warned the UN environment chief. 

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