Why you should read the Environmental Commissioner’s latest report

The last 30 years have been the warmest period in 1,400 years.

If you live in Ontario, care about our fragile natural world, and hope very much that your descendants won’t experience 50 days a year where temperatures soar above 35 C, consider reading the very readable report,  Looking for Leadership; the costs of climate inaction. Recently published by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, the document is – no surprise – sobering. But it’s also quite interesting, very important, clearly written, and points to solutions – actions we can realistically undertake that will result in a meaningful difference.

As noted in the progress report, “Over the last 30 years, the mean temperature in each succeeding decade has been warmer than the previous; within the Northern Hemisphere this is likely to have been the warmest period during the previous 1,400 years.”

Ontario’s three largest sources of GHG emissions are industry, transportation and buildings with the transportation sector being the largest single contributor having produced a 24% increase in emissions since 1990. (On the other hand, vehicle emissions have remained stable since 2005 as cars and light trucks have become more fuel efficient.)

The built environment remains the third largest emitter of climate pollution in the province, and TAF warranted a mention for our work on lowering the carbon emissions generated by the energy required to heat, cool and run buildings.

We focus on buildings because this is the source of nearly half of Toronto’s emissions and is the third largest GHG emitting sector in the province.  Even so, thanks to improvements in codes and standards, increased floor space no longer equates to an increase in GHG emissions in the residential sector. Similarly, among commercial and institutional buildings across the province, floor space grew by 45% between 1990 and 2011, while associated emissions increased by only 26%.

Amendments to the Ontario Building Code include energy efficiency requirements of the kind that the City of Toronto already established through the Toronto Green Standard, an initiative where TAF was instrumental. Toronto requires that energy efficiencies in new buildings are at least 15% better than the standards set out in the Ontario Building Code.

In collaboration with The Clean Air Partnership, we are now working with the Ministry of Energy to realize a comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit program that is best able to reduce provincial energy demand, generation and costs; increase local economic development opportunities; and improve the resilience of Ontario’s population to future energy cost increases.

The Environmental Commissioner’s Office believes that if marketed properly, this program has the potential to broadly reduce energy use and its associated carbon footprint in existing buildings.

We echo the message in this report that we can transition to a low-carbon economy. We need to keep up the momentum of what’s in place, push ahead with new initiatives, and stick to the shared commitment between Toronto and Ontario to lower GHG emissions by 80% by 2050.

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