City cuts are the key to curbing global greenhouse gases

Large cities could be the key to controlling global greenhouse gas emissions. Bob Berwyn photo.

Reducing emissions in large cities could be the key to controlling global greenhouse gas emissions. Bob Berwyn photo.

New study outlines path toward 70 percent reductions

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The greenhouse gas cuts needed to curb global warming at 2 degrees Celsius sometimes seem daunting when taken as a whole, but engineers and scientists have shown repeatedly that it can be done — and with existing technology, not some farfetched science fiction scheme.

Most recently, a University of Toronto Civil Engineering professor and a World Bank climate change specialist teamed up for a case study, showing how Toronto and other major cities could reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 70 percent in the long term by implementing aggressive but practical policy changes.

“Cities are where people live, where economic activity flourishes,” said the World Bank’s Lorraine Sugar. “Cities are where local actions can have global impact.”

“This is the sort of reduction the international community is calling for, so we can avoid the potentially serious consequences of climate change,” said Professor Kennedy.

The researchers explained that more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cities.

The study focuses on buildings, energy supply and transportation. Best practices as well as options and opportunities — for example, encouraging electric cars and increasing bicycling infrastructure – are detailed.

“It is possible for a Canadian city, in this case Toronto, to reduce its GHG emissions by the sort of magnitudes that the international scientific community have indicated are necessary globally to keep global temperature rise below 2 C,” Kennedy and Sugar write.

“With current policies, especially cleaning of the electricity grid, Toronto’s per-capita GHG emissions could be reduced by 30 per cent over the next 20 years. To go further, however, reducing emissions in the order of 70 per cent, would require significant retrofitting of the building stock, utilization of renewable heating and cooling systems, and the complete proliferation of electric, or other low carbon, automobiles.”

The biggest obstacle is the city’s building stock, according to Kennedy. Buildings have a lifespan measured in decades, so it takes time to replace older buildings with more energy-efficient ones.

Kennedy and Sugar outlined their case in the most recent issue of The Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. The study arose out of a handbook Kennedy and his students produced for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority in 2010, Getting to Carbon Neutral: A Guide for Canadian Municipalities.

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One Response

  1. Bob,

    Another great piece; thanks for your continued coverage of the most important challenge of our time.

    Your readers might infer one misimpression from the story, though, namely that city dwellers are disproportionately responsible for greenhouse gas emissions: “…more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cities.” So aren’t those of us who live outside cities responsible for only 30 per cent of GHG emissions? But you have to measure any individual’s carbon footprint not just according to where they might live or work, but also by the products they buy and how far they drive on a regular basis. So city dwellers in fact turn out to have lower per-capita emissions because of things like shorter commutes and the more widespread availability of mass transit there.

    So those of us who live and work in outlying towns or rural areas can’t relax and think that global warming is someone else’s problem. We all have work to do.

    Cheers,
    Pete / Floyd Hill
    Clear Creek County

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