How the GTA is failing to meet its emissions targets

Regional climate agency The Atmospheric Fund released its carbon emissions inventory for the Greater Toronto Area Monday — and the results aren’t exactly encouraging.

While there are some positives, the results of the study, which examines data from 2015 to 2017, shows the region has a long way to go to meet emissions targets.

“We need a rapid ramp up in the scale and ambition of our climate actions,” said Bryan Purcell, the organization’s vice president of policy and programs.

Here’s what the latest report found.

The good news

First, the positives. Total emissions in the GTA and Hamilton fell by about 3.5 cent in that two years, with annual reductions of about 1.7 per cent.

“That’s significant, especially in a fast-growing region like the Greater Toronto Area,” said Purcell.

It’s noteworthy because the regional population grew by nearly a quarter million people in that timeframe.

The region is also seeing progress in lowering emissions in the building sector and from waste in landfills, Purcell says.

The bad news

You knew this was coming.

While that 1.7 per cent drop is nice, Purcell says the region would need to see annual reductions of around seven per cent just to get on track with its commitments.

Just look at this graph. The blue lines show how emissions targets dropped over this period. The orange line shows where we want to be by 2050.

(The Atmospheric Fund)


“We’re not nearly there,” Purcell says.

What were the biggest sources of carbon emissions?

On the whole, 77 per cent of the area’s carbon emissions are from buildings and the transportation sectors.

The amount of vehicle emissions are actually moving in the wrong direction, Purcell says.

In part, that’s because Ontario has seen major reductions in incentives for electric vehicles, which has in turn led to a dramatic decline in sales, he says.

Consumer preference continues to shift to larger vehicles like SUVs, he says, and that’s hurting us too.

How did the GTA municipalities rank?

This graph breaks down carbon emissions by municipality and sector for 2017, and unsurprisingly, Toronto comes out on top.

(The Atmospheric Fund)

That’s because Toronto has a high population density, at nearly four times higher than Peel, the next densest region.

But Toronto actually had the lowest per capita emissions of any municipality in the region in 2017, as this graph shows:

(The Atmospheric Fund)

Here, Hamilton comes out on top, largely due to emissions from the city’s industrial sector.

What do the experts say needs to happen next?

Purcell says it is “absolutely” possible for the region to accelerate things and meet its emissions targets.

“It’s definitely achievable to reach our 2030 targets as a region and our longer term targets,” he said. “The key is we have to start now. We can’t lose any time.”

“We need all levels of government taking immediate, strong action to drive emission reductions, and working together to co-ordinate that.”

It’s also a necessity that to increase the rate that we’re reducing emissions by a factor of four or five, and do it fast.


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