GETTING SERIOUS about tackling greenhouse gases has to start with dramatically cutting emissions from Ontario’s transportation sector, the province’s environmental watchdog warned recently.
In releasing his latest update on efforts to curb climate change-inducing emissions in Ontario, Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller told reporters at Queen’s Park the biggest sector emitter of greenhouse gases has witnessed the smallest efforts at reducing GHGs.
“The biggest section is transportation emissions and that’s a section where we have achieved only miniscule changes,” Miller said. “The growth in transportation means our emissions are increasing from the 1990 base.”
Since 1990 — the baseline year that Ontario uses to compare projected reductions against, the transportation sector’s share of provincial GHG emissions has increased from 45.5 per cent to 56.6 per cent, by far the largest increase among the electricity generation, industry, buildings, agriculture and waste sectors.
According to Miller, the government’s 2007 Climate Change Action Plan projected a combined GHG reduction across all sectors amounting to 99 megatonnes. Thirteen per cent of that reduction was projected to come from passenger vehicle emission reductions and public transit while six per cent was slated to come from freight and diesel reductions.
This 19 per cent equalled approximately 19 of the 99 megatonnes the Liberals hoped to reduce by 2020.
But “the enthusiasm and commitment of 2007 has been substantially deflated,” Miller told Reeves Report last week.
The government’s Climate Change Progress Report from 2012 show the Liberals have quietly lowered the projected GHG reduction to come from the transportation sector as a whole by 80 per cent to 3.9 megatonnes, less than one-fifth what was originally suggested.
While some of this can be explained away by forecasting revisions, according to the Miller, it’s “incumbent upon the government to provide a clear explanation” as to why the benchmark was “severely downgraded.”
But the province has not reduced its GHG reduction targets and remains on track to reduce 6 per cent from 1990 levels this year and 15 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 says Patrick Searle, press secretary for current Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and former press secretary to the current Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray.
“The government never established sector-specific targets for GHG reduction,” Searle told RR in an emailed statement.
The Liberals “estimated” a 1.9 megatonne contribution from the transportation sector to meet Ontario’s overall 2014 target, as well as a 3.9 megatonne contribution to the 2020 target, Searle said.
“The projection is based on current transportation initiatives and does not take into account planned initiatives that will further reduce GHG emissions such as greener diesel fuel content and heavy-duty vehicle standards,” he said.
“But as in 2007, this potential GHG reduction in the transportation sector is an estimate (projection), not a target.”
The province’s quiet reduction to 3.9 megatonnes remains “quite a mystery,” Miller said. “We have to make innovations in transportation. We have a huge opportunity because we can electrify aspects of the transportation system. There are a number of choices available, but we haven’t made any moves.”
To help the province meet its transportation emission reduction targets, the ECO is recommending:
- Create more compact and mixed urban development to reduce personal vehicle use;
- Encourage the design and use of energy efficient vehicles;
- Encourage more people to purchase electric vehicles; and
- Make significantly higher investments in public transit across the province.
But Environment and Climate Change Minister Murray told reporters at Queen’s Park in mid-July the province is set to make a significant investment in reducing the sector’s GHG output by electrifying aspects of the Greater Toronto Area’s GO Transit system.
“In the next 24 months, three years, you’ll see the electrification of the Lakeshore GO line and the electrification of the Milton and Georgetown GO lines. You’re going to see the biggest change in the cleaning of transportation technology,” he said.
As of 2010, 38.5 million riders representing almost 68 per cent of all GO train users relied on the Lakeshore east and west lines, in addition to the Milton and Georgetown lines, the routes Premier Kathleen Wynne and newly minted Transportation Minister Del Duca are planning to move ahead with electrifying.
But it’s not just GO train electrification, Murray said. He pointed to LRT projects in Kitchener-Waterloo and the $2.1 billion, 12.5 km Confederation Line in Ottawa as other examples of how the government is helping get people out of their cars and into public transit.
Further implementing Ontario’s Places to Grow Act from 2006, which encouraged denser, more walkable communities in suburbs and small-to-medium sized cities across the province, is also a big part of the government’s plan, he said.
“When the Environmental Commissioner was asked what three things we should do he said deal with transit and transportation and we’re doing that,” Murray said.