Thursday, June 09, 2011

More on GHG Emission Reductions

There are ways to reduce GHG emissions. Most of the ideas have been around for a while. We just haven’t acted on them.

Gord Miller looks at some of these in his annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report (

High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail (HSR) is one example.

In January 2008 the Ontario and Quebec governments started a one year study on the feasibility of a HSR system linking Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. A year later the feds joined in to expand the survey to include a Windsor to Quebec city route.

In November 2010 the government said the report would be released in “a timely manner.”

We haven’t seen it yet. Does this sound familiar? You might remember a similar survey in 1995. It reported that a significant reduction (24% by 2025) in transport-related CO2 emissions could result.

I don’t want to suggest that this stuff is simple or that the projections are bang on accurate but 16 years have elapsed, can’t we get moving. The ECO “strongly encourages” the government “to expedite release of the study.”

Low-carbon Fuel Standard

From Miller’s report I understand that there are “technologically feasible low carbon fuels” which if more widely used could reduce GHG emissions.” This is, in fact, a policy tool which, if put in place, would require suppliers to reduce average fuel carbon densities to meet benchmarks. Suppliers who reduce below the standard would get credits that they could sell to other suppliers. This is like a cap- and-trade system except it is within a single sector. Independent analysis shows that such a system could result in a 6.4 Megatonne reduction by 2025. Other jurisdictions are already doing this but Ontario seems to have given up on the idea. Why?

Electrification of GO Trains

Earlier this year Metrolinx recommended electrifying portions of the GO Rail network. Significant GHG emission reductions would result from this move off diesel.

Perhaps any or all of these initiatives will be further advanced in the lead up to the provincial election. The Green Party Platform seems to hint at these kinds of strategies.

But I’m trying to remember when environmental issues were front in centre in an election campaign.

Maybe this will change this fall.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

More Greenhouse Gas

It has become a bit of a habit for me. Each year around this time I find myself drawn to the Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report put out by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

Why do I do this? Am I looking for encouragement or trouble?

This is Commissioner Gord Miller’s third annual report.

The context is that as Ontario is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions it is imperative that progress is measured regularly.

Specifically, emissions (calculated in megatonnes) must be reduced relative to 1990 levels by:
*6% by 2014
*15% by 2020
*80% by 2050

In 1990 the level of GHG emissions was 177 megatonnes (Mt.) per year. By 2009 it had, in fact, dropped by more than the target (i.e., 6.5% to 165 Mt.) Not bad, but because of reduced industrial activity this result is somewhat misleading.

Now with the economy growing the Commissioner worries that there is “no plan, mechanism or tolls in place that would allow the 2020 targets to be met.”

Projecting a modest amount of economic growth (adds 23 Mt.) Factoring in the impact of the coal phase out in 2014 (reduction of 10 Mt.) means there will remain 13Mt “still on the table.”

The transportation sector is responsible for 56.8 Mts. Most of these emissions are produced by personal vehicles. So, it is surprising that apparently effective programs aimed at this sector have been dropped.

For example, the Green Commercial Vehicle Program was begun in 2008. It supported the purchase of low GHG emitting commercial vehicles. Planned for four years it was suspended after two.

Another good idea, the Ontario Bus Replacement program, was established in 2002. It resulted in an estimated 1.1Mt emission reduction. It was cancelled in the 2010 provincial budget. Now, when municipalities have to replace buses they will need to use the Gas Tax Fund which has been a source for other needs for the struggling municipal sector.

The government seems to know what to do. They just aren’t doing it.

Metrolinx’s Big Move, a much needed $50 billion Regional Transit Plan, was fully funded in its first phase. The 2010 budget (again) delayed monies for the second phase.

As far as another initiative, When The Mayor Smiles had put great faith in the intensification mandated by the Places to Grow Act. Miller points out, however, that 60% of new planned growth will still go to Greenfield areas and the density targets aren’t good enough to justify provision of an effective transit system in these areas.

I’ll come back to the report tomorrowish with some suggestions.

Hint: Don’t expect me to find inspiration from Ford Nation.