On Venus, you can cook a 16-inch pepperoni pizza in seven seconds just by holding it out to the air.(1) As the hottest planet in our solar system, Venus is a steady 460°C day or night and owes its prodigious temperature to an atmosphere made up almost entirely of carbon dioxide (96%); The result of a runaway greenhouse effect.
This is not to say a Venusian oven is in Earth’s future if we are not more careful (2), but Earth does not need Venusian levels of atmospheric CO2 for a detrimental rise in temperature. All that need happen before an irreversible climactic transformation affects a significant portion of Earth’s population is an increase of 2°C in global temperature. An increase of 2°C will result in, among others, an ice-free Arctic, sea-level rise of tens of meters, increasingly intense storms, wider-ranging wildfires and increasing drought.
Not surprisingly then, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) welcomes any reasonable attempt by the government to reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
As part of its initiative to reduce GHG emissions in the province, the government of Ontario recently solicited comments on a Discussion Paper that outlined its GHG emissions reduction program. The program sets Ontario’s emissions targets to:
- 6% below 1990 levels by 2014,
- 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, and
- 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
The purpose of the Paper is to support a dialogue on the elements of a program that will achieve emissions reductions and support the province’s economic goals. However, while signalling Ontario’s intention to introduce a cap-and-trade system, the Paper excluded both road transportation and carbon taxes as opportunities for reducing emissions.
Based on 2010 data from Environment Canada (3), almost a third (27%) of all GHG emissions in Ontario are attributed to road transportation. As a subsector of the transportations sector, road transportation includes gasoline and diesel fuelled cars and trucks; propane and natural gas fuelled cars; and motorcycles. Unfortunately, the provincial government has chosen to exclude one of the largest emitting sectors in Ontario from its GHG emission initiative. A sector that was not only a significant factor in 1990 but has since grown in both percentage of overall emissions and absolute amounts of CO2 equivalents (34.9 megatons (Mt) in 1990 to 45.3 Mt in 2010, see Figure 1).
The basis for Ontario’s exclusion of road transportation from its program will be addressed in a subsequent post. However, suffice to say, if Ontario is serious about meeting its 2020 and 2050 emissions targets, it needs to invest in greening its transportation infrastructure by committing to initiatives that substantially curb GHG emissions from road transportation. Policies for a full transit plan, controlling urban sprawl and stronger regulations for fuel efficiency would lay the groundwork for reducing road transportation emissions and achieving the 2020 and 2050 targets. Possible options for directly reducing road emissions include more stringent fuel-efficiency regulations, investment in high-speed rail, low-carbon fuel standards, incentivising low-carbon vehicles, and road pricing (e.g. road tolls, congestion charges etc.). (4)
1. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries (New York: W. W. Horton & Company, Inc., 2007).
2. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has explicitly stated that a “runaway greenhouse effect”, analogous to Venus, appears to have virtually no chance of being induced by anthropogenic activities. Theorized scenarios that led to Venus’ runaway greenhouse effect involve a complete cessation of plate tectonics and evaporation of terrestrial carbon dioxide.
3. Environment Canada (2012), National Inventory Report – Greenhouse Gas sources and Sinks in Canada 1990-2010, Part 3, p. 61.
4. David Suzuki Foundation, All Over the Map 2012 A Comparison of Provincial Climate Change Plans, April 2012, http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/reports/2012/all-over-the-map-2012/