Gas track

Erica Butler sees red over HRM’s greenhouse gases.

Back in 1997, seven years after the Kyoto Accord was born, HRM joined the 20 percent club. We committed to reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 percent by the year 2012. Instead, our emissions increased. By 2002, SuperCitizens were producing 28 percent more GHGs than in 1997. One reason is simply there were more of us. More people means more cars and more buildings, and more fossil fuel consumption. Growth accounts for about half of our increase, but the reasons for the other half are less clear. It seems we just don’t care, or just haven’t been paying attention. Per capita, the average HRM citizen produced 14 percent more GHGs in 2002 than they did in 1997.

So why, then, are SuperCity staff and councillors heading to Montreal next week to present at the Municipal Leaders Summit on Climate Change, an offshoot of the UN Climate Change conference already underway? Shouldn’t we be sheepish about our track record?

First of all, we’re not alone with our ballooning emissions. “Most cities nationwide have actually had an increase of about 25 or 30 percent,” says Stephen King, a manager of environmental performance for the city. HRM as an organization has actually been more responsible than the community — the emissions from city buildings, vehicles, and general energy consumption went up only 18 percent, and that’s including growth.

Secondly, it’s not so much about what we’ve done as what we plan on doing. Staff will be showing off Climate SMART, an award-winning program, which includes GHG emission reduction initiatives and research and planning to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. “One of the reasons HRM was invited to participate was our integrated approach to adaptation and mitigation, and bringing all the players together,” says King.

“We’re working with Environment Canada on some major vulnerability mapping of our coastline and inland areas that will be susceptible.” Although “it’s the extremes that are knocking the heck out of us,” King says the incremental effects of climate change will also play into our planning. “Our standards have to take into account there’s going to be more rain, warmer temperatures, higher winds, more storms.”

In terms of mitigation, HRM is readjusting its goals. Last month council re-committed to a 20 percent reduction in its own emissions, using a baseline of 2002 instead of 1997. “A 2002 baseline was a little closer to achievable,” says King. “It’s no good saying your going to be 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 if you don’t have a remote change of meeting it.”

The reduction target for the community is still under discussion, although projects are underway. A methane gas capture project at the Sackville landfill will prevent methane (equivalent to 21 times as much carbon dioxide) from being released into the atmosphere, and will produce about 2.5 megawatts of green power. It could mean as much as 150,000 tonnes a year in reduced emissions.

Another 150,000 tonnes could come from the construction of a co-generation plant on the Halifax peninsula. The plant will produce 20 megawatts of electricity (using Heritage Gas natural gas), sending waste heat from the thermal generation process to heat buidlings like the hospitals and universities. The two projects could account for a five percent reduction in our emissions, says King.

“It’s really a reach for us to reduce 20 percent by 2012,” says King, “but it is a target and we’re going to do everything we can to reach it.”

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