Explanation and background on the ten new steps Environment Hamilton recommends for the city to address the challenges of climate change.
By Environment Hamilton
Published March 27, 2009
At its 2009 Annual General Meeting, Environment Hamilton released a new list of ten steps the city of Hamilton can take to address the challenges of climate change:
Long distance shipment of food is a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Statistics Canada reports that households are responsible for nearly half of Canada's emissions and 19 percent of household emissions are from food.
A 2005 study by the Region of Waterloo examined imported foods that could be grown in south-western Ontario and found the average item traveled nearly 4500 km. "Imports create on average 161 times more GHG emissions than if sourced in Waterloo Region, or 19 times more emissions than if sourced from South-western Ontario," the study found.
Strong demand for locally-produced food has developed in Hamilton in the last few years, a trend also occurring across the continent, in Europe and elsewhere in response to both climatic threats and concerns about food safety and quality.
Climatic changes, especially those affecting water supplies, have disrupted food production in many parts of the world such as Australia, and are now threatening California production - a major current source of Hamilton's 'fresh' produce. The expected return of much higher fuel prices will also affect our accessibility to non-local sources.
The city's public health department has recognized the challenges of food security and established a multi-stakeholder community food security group to develop adaptation strategies. In its most recent report to council, it stressed the problem of loss of agricultural lands.
Almost all the rural area in Hamilton is prime agricultural lands, but less than 5 percent of Canada is suitable for agriculture and southern Ontario contains 56 percent of the class one land in the country.
Ontario has long-standing - though largely ineffective - policies recognizing the critical importance of preserving agricultural land. Statistics Canada reports that urbanization had consumed 11 percent of the province's class one agricultural land by 2001 - a doubling over 1971.
It's certain that much more has been lost since 2001. The most recent agricultural profile presented to council earlier this year found that Hamilton's active farmland fell by 5,674 acres (2,296 hectares) between 2001 and 2006.
Accommodating all new growth within existing urban boundaries is both encouraged by the provincial government and possible in the Hamilton situation.
In 2005, Ontario established the Greenbelt in an effort to protect agricultural lands and more recently has created the opportunity for municipal governments to apply to expand that protected area.
The Places to Grow Act and supporting documents require a minimum of 40 percent of new growth to occur inside the current built boundary, and encourage municipalities to achieve higher rates of intensification.
Some municipal governments - like Guelph and the Region of Waterloo - are already committed to locating 100 percent of growth to 2031 inside existing urban boundaries.
Hamilton's intensification study found opportunities for at least 42,000 new residential units inside the built boundary limited, even though it only examined selected nodes and corridors, and didn't consider the second suites that now must be permitted in most single and semi-detached residences.
With actual growth running well behind projections, these opportunities for intensification may easily accommodate all residential growth to 2031.
Vision 2020, adopted as the guiding document for Hamilton-Wentworth in 1994 and confirmed for the new city in 2004, calls for a firm urban boundary.
The most recent Vision 2020 indicator report says that 1130 hectares of agricultural land has been rezoned to urban since 1993. That's an average of 75 hectares a year, but in 2007 the loss was 162 hectares, more than double that average.
The city's growth plan currently projects two major urban boundary expansions that would triple the losses of the last 15 years - 1134 hectares for the aerotropolis and 1,225 hectares (mainly in Elfrida) for residential expansion.
Vehicle use is another major household contributor to GHGs. Statistics Canada reported in December that 22.3 percent of household emissions are from motor fuels.
Municipal government has limited ways of encouraging a reduction of vehicle dependency, but it is well known that low cost and excessive parking availability has the opposite effect and also decreases transit use.
It's also well-established that additional road capacity leads to additional vehicle use and that reducing road capacity results in reduced vehicle use. It is noteworthy that Hamilton is currently unable to fund maintenance of existing road network.
The approved Transportation Master Plan recognizes the negative effects of road expansion on sustainability and concludes that "the preferred overall strategy is to rely on transit and travel demand management, in combination with road capacity optimization to solve transportation problems, before looking to road expansion."
A recent Infrastructure Canada review concluded that "strategic planning for parking infrastructure, including parking pricing and fees, will increase the effectiveness of urban development in communities across Canada and contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gases and airborne pollutants.
Strategic planning for parking infrastructure, including parking pricing and fees, will increase the effectiveness of urban development in communities across Canada and contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gases and airborne pollutants."
Replacing vehicle road space with cycling lanes, transit pulloffs and on-street parking offers benefits for pedestrian, cycling and transit options. In the context of this recommendation, it can also offset commitments already made for roads to service new subdivisions and development areas.
Surface parking lots occupy vast areas of prime real estate in our community, especially in downtown areas. Conversion to higher uses offers substantial opportunities for increased tax assessment, higher densities of jobs and residents, more transit use, and enhanced community structure.
Vehicle emissions, as noted above, are the single largest component of household GHG emissions in Canada. Increased use of public transit can offset much of this load on our atmosphere, and significantly reduce traffic congestion.
For these reasons, the provincial government, through Metrolinx, has made a substantial funding commitment to rapid transit, including specific improvements along the Eastgate-McMaster corridor in the short term, and up to four other major routes in the medium to long term. The province expects to achieve 15 percent of its targeted short-term (by 2014) GHG emission reductions through transit initiatives.
The light rail option has attracted very strong public support in Hamilton, far in excess of the bus rapid transit alternative, but the province has made clear that light rail will only happen if the city pays part of the cost (probably 15 percent).
Light rail will attract many new users to public transit, and to connecting lower-order transit services, thus reducing vehicle emissions.
An electricity-based transit investment also partly protects Hamilton from rising costs of fossil fuels, and allows the city to shift its energy use to ecologically sustainable electricity options such as wind and solar that don't contribute to long term GHG emissions.
Residents of the North End have gone through an extensive public process and strongly support a 30 km speed limit across their neighbourhood. Demand for reduced speeds in residential areas is very widespread, but has often resulted in stop signs that contribute to greater emissions.
Traffic calming structures such as bump-outs, chicanes and speed bumps, as well as roundabouts have been shown to be an effective way to reduce traffic speeds without imposing excessive stop and go traffic movement.
Lower traffic speeds greatly improve pedestrian and cycling safety, and make those non-polluting options more attractive, thus reducing motor vehicle usage and the resulting GHG emissions.
Many Hamiltonians never use the HSR or DARTS, and most of these residents are consequently largely unaware of the many benefits of this climate-friendly travel option.
Providing every household with free tickets will encourage non-users to try out transit, and will reward regular transit users for their contribution to reduced congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In both cases it will result in lower emissions.
The one-time gift is also a good way of giving residents something very concrete and visible for their tax dollars. Replacing single-occupant car trip with transit lowers greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 percent.
A study by the American Public Transit Association calculated that replacing a 32 km round trip commute with transit would save well over two tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The saving was nearly twice that of weatherizing your home and equal to replacing more than 50 incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents.
The ticket gift will be particularly helpful to low-income families, and those who can't use tickets could magnify this effect by donating tickets to social service agencies.
Like the firm urban boundary step, this measure will help reduce GHG emissions associated with food transportation - a significant source of household emissions.
Local food production reduces Hamilton's dependency on imports and contributes to local economic development. It also ameliorates poverty, improves nutrition and strengthens community cohesion.
The city's Food Access Guide currently lists only four active community gardens.
Environment Canada's EcoLogo certification for electricity is provided to sources with "little or no greenhouse gas emissions" and don't generate other toxic pollutants causing smog or acid rain. "Environment Canada views green power as a preferred option for new and replacement electricity generation."
Coal-fired and other fossil-fuel electrical generating facilities currently produce more than a third of Ontario's electricity, and that share sharply increases during periods of peak demand.
The emissions from Ontario's coal-fired plants are so substantial that the provincial government expects to achieve fully half of its short-term (2014) GHG reduction targets by shutting down these facilities.
Long-distance transportation is a major source of GHG emissions for all goods, not just food. Replacing imported goods with ones which are locally-produced shelters Hamiltonians from the impacts of rising fuel prices, and generates local employment that will also help reduce commuting distances and strengthen the local economy.
Adopting a municipal buy-local policy encourages individual consumers and businesses to follow suit.
Home energy use (heating and electricity) accounts for nearly one third of household GHGs. Yet we already know how to drastically cut that energy use through weatherization and insulation efforts.
As the landlord to 6,234 units in Hamilton, a serious city investment will quickly pay for itself in lower energy bills, enhance the quality of life of the low-income families that reside in those homes, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Council should also investigate how to extend this program into the community at large, especially to low-income housing. Such a program should be carefully designed to ensure that low-income tenants, rather than their more affluent landlords, are the main beneficiaries.
An annual budget allocation for such a program, ideally in partnership with utilities and other levels of government, is a simple way to permanently reduce all future utility bills of low-income residents, generate local renovation jobs, and sharply cut GHGs.
The city should lobby the provincial government for the legislative authority to do the following:
The provincial government has provided the city of Toronto (alone) with new taxing authority that can have very substantial impacts on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as shift costs from the general taxpayer to specific users of services especially those whose practices are currently generating excessive emissions.
Direct taxation of parking, tolling of some roadways, and imposition of taxes on vehicles all offer ways to shift to a more equitable user-pay taxation system that also lowers greenhouse gas emissions.
More than half of Hamilton households one car or less and one in every six Hamilton households does not own a vehicle at all, but are nevertheless forced to subsidize road and parking services for those households who operate several vehicles.
Green building standards are being adopted by numerous governments as an obvious first step in reducing energy use in new buildings, and avoiding costly and less efficient retrofitting in the future.
Hamilton council has specifically recognized the importance of these measures by adopting a policy to encourage LEED certification in new private construction and by implementing this approach at its Woodward Avenue Environmental Laboratory.
However, voluntary encouragement obviously has limited effectiveness, and at this point Ontario municipalities do not have the authority to impose appropriate building standards.
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