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Now it gets Interesting – Time to call on Canada’s Cities

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on November 13, 2014

There was much fanfare this week as the US and China signed a climate agreement. The two countries are the world’s largest energy users and generate the most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An agreement between the two countries is enormous, and now most other countries are looking to follow. Especially Canada.

Much is written on Ottawa’s previous reluctance to enter into binding carbon reduction agreements without all major contributors participating, and growing GHG emissions from Alberta’s oil sands. Much less is written about Canada’s cities: Pity, because that’s where we will lead.

The US-China agreement specifically calls for the launch of a ‘climate-smart/low-carbon cities initiative.’  This is important for Canada in several ways. The cities of China and the US are the main potential customers for Canada’s energy sales. Semantics perhaps, but countries don’t use energy. Rather their citizens in cities buy petroleum products for their cars and trucks, and electricity for their homes and businesses. China knows that the best way for them to reduce GHG emissions is to build better, more efficient cities. The cities of China and the US are going to aggressively try to reduce how much oil they use (regardless of where it comes from, or how it’s delivered).

Canada is an energy super-power. We have oil and gas, uranium and excellent nuclear capabilities, and some of the world’s longest experience with hydro-electricity and distribution is in Canada (Manitoba Hydro for example has 542,000 customers at home, while its International division serves 28 million customers in Nigeria). As US and Chinese customers try to reduce their purchase of Canadian energy, demand from other cities like Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Jakarta, Bangkok, Mumbai, Hanoi, Paris and London will grow. Despite the China-US agreement global energy demand will still grow. But hopefully growing even faster will be efforts to build energy-efficient cities.

Canada’s three largest cities (metro areas) – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – have among the world’s lowest carbon intensive electricity. The cities already have lower per capita GHG emissions than any big city in the US or China. And all three cities can do even better. By moving away from gasoline and diesel powered cars and trucks, and toward electric and natural gas powered vehicles, the three cities alone could reduce GHG emissions by about one tonne per capita (or 15 million tonnes per year by 2050). Canadian residents still have a long way to go on efficiency improvements. Our relatively low cost energy has helped make us the biggest per capita energy user in the world. But Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are on the road to much lower-carbon cities.

Canada has energy resources and energy expertise to sell. But even more valuable is Canada’s growing expertise on how to build better, more energy-efficient cities. As we learn how to reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions in our cities at home, we will have even more customers abroad wanting access to this experience. Canada can be both an energy, and energy-efficiency, super power.

Filed under: Sustainability 101