What’s Our Carbon Footprint

I heard Trevor Hache of Ecology Ottawa say that buildings contribute 2/3 of Ottawa’s Greenhouse Gasses. I was surprised because I’d been carrying around in my mind a rough split of 1/3 each for industry, transportation and housing — though that was notional and not specific to Ottawa.

So I did some homework. At the City of Ottawa website I found two documents

The latter of these appeared to back Trevor up, saying with respect to share of greenhouse gases in Ottawa

Since 1990…The building sector has remained the almost the same (going from 57% to 58%)

But figures within the two documents didn’t fill me with confidence as to reliability. They didn’t match each other and even had internal conflicts. For example the 2004 Plan said the Ottawa community emissions increased by 43% from 1990 to 1998. Meanwhile the White Paper said the community only increased emissions by 5% between 1990 and 2004. In another example the 2004 Plan gave differing percentages based on the same numbers.

I contacted David Miller, Manager in the Environmental Sustainability Branch at the City to ask how solid he felt the estimates were and whether there was an ongoing effort to establish and maintain credible numbers for GHG sources. He kindly replied that indeed those documents had errors

and so we are in the final stages of completing a new inventory for 2004 and 2008 ( working with the Canadian Standards Association) which will also establish a systematic approach to updating both community and corporate inventories so yes, we are establishing a sound basis for tracking emissions going forward. We have also done some “top down” estimates for the Choosing our Future project pending finalization of our detailed work. In the meantime, the previous reports are no longer valid.

Having said that, the breakdown for buildings and transportation seems to hold … so the split is a little less than 2/3 buildings – or community energy use – and a little less than 1/3 transportation (with some solid waste and agriculture mixed in).

What to take away from this? That the City is working on it, but that even though climate change has been identified as a major issue for some 30 years now, we in Ottawa don’t have much more than an informed estimate as to what we ourselves are contributing to the problem.

City staff are not to blame for this. Quite correctly they act according to priorities set by the City Council we elect. The Councillors don’t see political advantage in climate change as a priority issue. It is our duty to let them know that we’d like them to make it a priority.

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