The Toronto Atmospheric Fund’s Carbon Inventory for the GTHA (2015-2017) is devastating. While staff at the Toronto Atmospheric Fund highlight some marginal successes any sober reader can see that we are failing to reduce emissions in any meaningful way.
The science tells us that we must reduce emissions by 7% a year around the world. Justice tells us that rich nations and rich regions within those nations should do it even faster. Common sense tells us that the closer we get to net-zero the harder emissions reductions will be – so we must move as fast as possible while we are still picking low-hanging fruit. With that in mind, what would a serious emissions reduction target look like in the GTHA? 10% per year? 15%?
The Toronto Atmospheric Fund informs us that “During the three years covered by this report, emissions fell at an average annualized rate of 1.7%.”
Worse still, the report includes only Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions – fuels we actually burn in the city and fuel burned to produce electricity we consume in the city, not embedded emissions in any imports, including our food.
Within this frame, buildings produce 77% of emissions in the GTHA. And here we saw slight emissions reductions. However, these reductions could be attributed at least in part to warmer winters.
The second largest source of emissions in the GTHA is transportation. Transportation emissions INCREASED by 4% between 2015 and 2017. This is despite all the people switching to bikes and transit in order to do their part in the fight against climate change. Per capita transportation emissions INCREASED 1%. This is a colossal policy failure, caused mostly by the shift towards SUVs and pick-up trucks. All our bike lanes and EV subsidies and transit improvements amounted to nothing in the face of people’s preference for big, lethal vehicles. What this report demonstrates is that we will never reduce emissions with carrots alone – we need to use a stick on the most egregious bad behavior. We must make it unpleasant, expensive and even shameful to drive an internal combustion vehicle, and doubly so to drive an SUV or pick-up truck for ordinary trips. These larger vehicles are also particularly deadly to pedestrians and cyclists. Getting them off the road will also make the region safer, calmer and quieter. Any city that was serious about climate change would require a special permit for SUVs and pick-ups. Banning drive-thrus seems like another no-brainer. The GTHA, of course, is more concerned with coddling the comfortable at the expense of future generations and the people around the world who are already dying in fires, hurricanes, droughts and conflicts.
Why has this blogpost focused on transportation when buildings make up the bulk of our emissions? First of all, the simple fact that emissions are increasing in this sector is a shocking failure. Keep in mind that this increase came under a provincial government that gave a shit about the future. Since then, Ford has cancelled rebates for electric vehicles, fought the carbon tax in court and just this week defunded an LRT in Hamilton. But perhaps even more significantly, buildings can be changed without much impact on people’s lives. Although retrofitting buildings will have high up-front costs, the path forward is clear: update building codes, improve insulation and switch heating from natural gas to electric heat pumps as fast as possible. Buildings will remain warm in the winter and cool in the summer and most people will hardly register that a change has happened. However, our expectations about movement will have to change significantly in a very short time if we are to avoid the looming climate apocalypse. Creating walkable, transit-accessible neighbourhoods will require a massive redesign of our daily lives. But this goes beyond our daily commutes and the layout of our cities: it also includes our expectations about global travel – a source of emissions which explodes the carbon footprint of many a condo-dwelling, fixie-riding, vegan and one which is not recorded in this inventory of our local emissions. All of us must prepare for significant changes in our lifestyles and policy-makers must accept that we cannot meet our targets without having the courage to implement policies that have a material impact on the way we live, work and consume.