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In Depth

Kyoto and beyond

Looking for solutions to climate change

Last Updated April 6, 2006

People, communities, corporations and countries are showing how making small changes can add up in the effort to reduce the world's emissions of greenhouse gases.

Scientists say climate change needs to be tackled on a global scale because carbon dioxide lasts for hundreds of years in the atmosphere. Emissions mix easily, no matter where they're from.

Canada's One-Tonne Challenge asked individuals to do their part by reducing their annual greenhouse gas emissions by one tonne, by using less energy.

(courtesy Government of Canada)
In the United States, the Chicago Climate Exchange makes a business out of global warming. Member companies voluntarily commit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one per cent per year. Those that do can sell their credit to others who can't meet the goal.

The City of Chicago is one of the sellers. The city has a detailed plan to become the greenest city in North America. About 150 buildings have gardens on their roofs which absorb rainwater, help keep buildings warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

The city's solar-powered indoor bicycle garage encourages commuters to cycle while generating one megawatt of electricity from solar sources.

Like some other cities, Chicago is slowly converting its fleet of vehicles to energy-efficient models.

Added up, the Chicago Climate Exchange estimates its member companies reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 13 per cent overall between 2003 and 2005.

Other industrialized countries are working on ways to cope with some of the environmental effects expected from climate change, such as rising water levels.

Floating homes

London and cities in the Netherlands have strategies for holding back the seas. The Dutch have built massive surge gates and storm barriers designed to withstand the type of floods that happen every 10,000 years in a country where 10 million people live below sea level.

Meanwhile, Dutch environmentalists are leaving behind their 1,000-year-old tradition of building dams and dikes to reclaim land from the water. They favour a new room-for-the-rivers philosophy.

Farms are relocated to create giant flood plains. "We can't go on building higher and higher dikes and feeling ourselves safe," Lucas Reijnders, a leader in the Dutch environmental movement told CBC News. "We have to allow for controlled flooding to keep our heads above the water."

Architects now design homes to literally keep people above the water in floating houses. The bottom of the home is a sealed concrete basement like the hull of a ship. When flood waters rise, the house slides up and down on two solid pylons.

Sometimes a solution to an environmental problem such as climate change piggybacks on the answer to another problem.

Biofuel tests

British Columbia is looking for ways to handle the thousands of trees that have been devastated by mountain pine beetles. The Finnish city of Pietarsaari offers one approach. The Alholmens plant is designed to run on either biomass or coal — or any combination of the two.

In B.C., the biomass would be in the form of chipped trees. The province and BIOCAP, a not-for-profit research foundation for Canada's forest and agricultural industries, sent a team of engineers to Alholmens to see if the idea could work in the province.

They concluded there is no technical barrier to scaling up the plant size from producing 240 MW of gross power, as at Alholmens, to 330 MW in B.C. By way of comparison, Ontario produced about 66 MW from wind, waste and wood in 2003.

Likewise, the Swedish city of Vaxjo aims to wean itself off fossil fuels such as oil and gasoline by using biofuel for heat and power.

Forest residue helps the city cut its greenhouse gas emissions from heating to about half the Swedish average or one-fifth of Canada's emissions.

In Linkoping, Sweden, 65 city buses as well most taxis and garbage trucks use biofuel from slaughterhouse waste. The vehicles rely on dead cows for their fuel.

Canadian companies are finding ways to reduce greenhouse gases in other industries.

At the Nov. 2005 Montreal Climate Change Conference, an exhibit called "A World of Solutions" highlighted:

  • Ballard Power of Burnaby, B.C., which makes fuel cells for electric vehicles.
  • A way to treat animal waste patented by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
  • A project to capture carbon dioxide from municipal incinerators.
  • Iogen Corp. of Ottawa has developed enzymes which can break down waste straw and wood chips into ethanol on a commercial scale.
  • Frygy Cube International and Réfrigeration Sherbrooke make more efficient cold storage for refrigerated and frozen foods or truck deliveries.

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