From 20 to 3 tonnes per person, Edmonton sets lofty emissions reduction goal

The City of Edmonton’s current energy strategy lacks the vigour to reach its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, a report released Thursday shows.

City's current strategy won't meet strict global target of 1.5 degrees Celsius

Edmonton currently emits 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person each year. (David Bajer/CBC)

Under its current energy strategy, the City of Edmonton won't reach its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, a report released Thursday shows.

The worldwide goal is to stop the average temperature on the planet from rising by more than 1.5 C.

Edmonton must step up its game, Mayor Don Iveson said at city hall Thursday. 

"We've got to be on a downward trajectory," Iveson said. "If we throw up our hands and say, 'Well, it's too hard,' that's going to be bad for business in Edmonton. That's going to be bad for our brand, bad for our ability to attract talent and bad for the credibility of this province."

Edmonton signed on to the target in March 2018 when it hosted the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference.

In July, city council asked the energy transition strategy team to determine whether the current strategy would likely meet this "level of ambition."

Edmonton currently emits 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person each year. 

Vancouver's per capita emissions are under three tonnes per person, the report says. 

In Edmonton, the colder climate, the magnitude of industrial emissions and the fact that fewer people walk, cycle or ride public transit all contribute to the higher pollution rate.

We have to get there.- Mayor Don Iveson

Mike Mellross, supervisor for the energy transition and utility supply, said the current strategy would see Edmonton's carbon emissions reduced to 11 tonnes per capita by 2035.

To meet the 1.5 C goal, however, the city must reach three tonnes a year by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.

While his team revises the current plan, Mellross said the city will keep running programs like the residential solar rebate program, home energy plan for retrofitting and corporate climate leader program that supports businesses in reducing emissions.

"And we do hope to introduce some more support programs during this 18-month period," he said. "We're not going to stop and plan, we're going to do and plan."

Industry participation 

David Dodge, the volunteer co-chair of the city's energy transition strategy advisory committee, joined the city Thursday to laud current efforts and encourage progress.

"Edmonton has one of the most sophisticated energy transition plans of any city that we've seen," Dodge said. "Which is pretty cool, I think, owing to the fact that we're one of the most northern cities in the Western Hemisphere." 

LRT and electric buses make a big difference.

The report suggests the way the city plans and builds its transportation system "directly relates to Edmonton's ability to reduce its emissions."

Dodge said the city is already a front-runner in certain industries, such as housing.

"The business community in Edmonton is also rising to this and has risen over the last decade in ways that nobody expected," he said. "Our builders here are the very best at building super energy-efficient buildings in all of Canada, including Vancouver." 

He noted some builders are crafting net-zero homes for as low as $400,000. 
David Dodge, co-chair of the energy transition advisory committee, says the city's builders are ahead of the curve on net-zero homes. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Iveson said private sector companies need to be involved, and he thinks they'll want to be. 

"We're green building specialists here in this city, so again rising to these challenges should be seen as an economic opportunity for us." 

Making things more energy efficient — from buildings to transportation — is an opportunity to expand the economy and create jobs, he said. 

"That's a huge opportunity for people to improve the performance of their buildings and reduce their cost," Iveson said. "This can actually be an economic driver and long-term savings for people."

The energy team will look at changing regulations for industry and speeding up innovation on a community level.

The energy strategy team is asking council to approve $300,000 and 2.5 staff positions over 18 months to put a plan in place. 

Mellross suggested targets under a revised plan would see 85 per cent of all buildings in the city derive 60 per cent of their energy from solar power by 2030, and by 2040 almost everyone would be using electric vehicles.  

From renewable energy to building efficiency and transportation systems, Iveson appeared confident the goal is attainable. 

"We have to get there. I mean, it would be irresponsible not to," he said. "If we are the generation that fails to do this, you know, how can I look my kids in the eye? We absolutely can and must rise to this."

By the end of 2020, the city's energy transition team hopes to submit its plan to the province to meet the Climate Change Mitigation Plan Requirement.