Photo Courtesy of Toronto Star

For those of you who thought the congested downtown core was the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), you might be surprised to hear the new theory put forward by researchers from U of T and the World Bank.

According to their research paper, “Cities and greenhouse gas emissions: moving forward,” suburbs emit far more GHG emissions per capita than the city core.

Whitby had the highest amount per capita of CO2 emissions in the GTA — 13.02 tons as opposed to 1.31 tons in East York.

People living in areas close to the downtown core have a smaller carbon footprint because of the shorter distances and greater transport options: people can walk, bike or take the subway to work. In the suburbs where transit isn’t as developed, people rely more on their cars to get around. Homes in the suburbs are also larger and require more energy to heat.

Data from around the world show that denser cities with more access to public transit have lower per capita emissions. The lowest emissions in the world come from developing nations, which consume fewer fossil fuels.

Lorraine Sugar, a U of T master’s student who compiled the report along with World Bank researchers Dan Hoornweg and Claudia Gomez, says many cities worldwide have good practices, and Stockholm, Sweden is a good exemplary model.

“Stockholm has done some really innovative things with their urban development. They’ve done a lot of mixed use developments so people can live very close to where they get their groceries or where they go to work and so there’s a lot less automobile use in Stockholm,” Sugar said.

“There’s a really robust transit system that people use. One of the big things in Stockholm as well is they have a lot of jobs and businesses and industry outside of the city and they’ve managed to be one of the cities where they have people commuting in both directions.”

This is one aspect in which Toronto is disadvantaged. Most people commute to the city centre for work and go back home in the suburbs at the end of the day.

“Whereas in Stockholm with certain satellite cities and certain suburbs, people are commuting in both directions. People are going from the city to the suburbs as well as people from the suburbs coming into the city and that’s a really unique characteristic,” Sugar said.

There is a lot of innovation coming from Toronto, such as the deep lake water cooling system. Operating since 2004 by Enwave Energy Corporation, the system draws water from Lake Ontario to cool buildings in the financial district instead of using electricity for air conditioning. The pipes extend five kilometres into the lake and have a cooling power of 59,000 tons. It can cool up to 3,200,000 square meters of office space. Sugar says a lot of cities are looking to Toronto as an example for this particular technology.

The report emphasizes the importance of cities in lowering GHG emissions. Cities are now home to more than half of the world’s population while occupying only two per cent of land. They also consume 70 per cent of global energy and produce 70 per cent of GHG emissions. “In terms of climate change and global issues, cities have a huge role to play,” Sugar said. “It’s in terms of the emissions they’re producing, in terms of where most people live, putting in infrastructure that’s sustainable.”

Cities are becoming more recognized for their influence on climate change. The C40 Sao Paulo summit was held between May 31 and June 2, where 40 mayors from the world’s 40 largest cities were brought together to share their experiences in dealing with climate change.

Bill Clinton and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a merger of initiatives in April where they will work together to address climate change.

Kevin Sheekey, a former deputy mayor of New York and principal political advisor to Bloomberg told The New York Times that involving cities is important if we want anything achieved with climate change.

“We are putting a stake in the ground around the idea that national and international governments have failed, possibly quite permanently, or at least in a way that they will not make any serious progress before it’s too late,” Sheekey said.

“If you address the problems of the cities, there will be no need for China and India to sign onto some international accord. And thank God, because that’s not going to get done. It’s time to say it.”

Sugar says it’s important to be aware of your carbon footprint in order to make the right decisions in the future. For example, when buying a home, be aware how much it’s insulated and how efficient the furnace is. When commuting, use public transit or carpool. To measure your emissions, use the Toronto- based Zerofootprint’s personal emissions calculator.

City                                                GHG emissions (tCO2e/capita)

Buenos Aires                                     3.83

Sydney                                               20.3

Bangladesh                                       0.37

Brussels                                             7.5

Rio de Janeiro                                 2.1

Calgary                                             17.7

Toronto (City of Toronto)             9.5

Toronto (Metropolitan Area)       11.6

Vancouver                                        4.9

Beijing                                              10.1

Paris                                                 5.2

Prague                                              9.4

Athens                                             10.4

Delhi                                                1.50

Tokyo                                               4.89

Mexico City (Metro Area)            2.84

Kathmandu                                     0.12

Seoul                                                4.1

Ljubljana                                         9.5

Barcelona                                        4.2

Stockholm                                      3.6

Geneva                                            7.8

London (Greater London Area) 9.6

New York City                              10.5

Los Angeles                                   13.0

Menlo Park                                   16.37

Denver                                           21.5

Country                                   GHG emissions (tCO2e/capita)

Argentina                                    7.64

Australia                                     25.75

Bangladesh                                 0.37

Belgium                                      12.36

Brazil                                           4.16

Canada                                        22.65

China                                           3.40

Czech Republic                          14.59

France                                         8.68

Germany                                    11.62

India                                            1.33

Japan                                           10.76

Jordan                                         4.04

Mexico                                         5.53

Nepal                                           1.48

Republic of Korea                     11.46

South Africa                               9.92

Spain                                           9.86

Sri Lanka                                    1.61

Sweden                                       7.15

The Netherlands                      12.67

Thailand                                    3.76

UK                                              10.50

USA                                            23.59

Source- Cities and greenhouse gas emissions: moving forward 

Published in The Varsity

2 thoughts on “Greenhouse gases- not just an urban problem

  1. Do you know where I can read the mentioned research paper from U of T/ World Bank? It would be really helpful for an urban planning report I am writing about traffic congestion being a bigger problem in the GTA (specifically 905 area) than the downtown core.
    Thank you!

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