It’s no secret that its people, businesses and cities are having a really bad time dealing with the deadly effects of carbon dioxide emissions. But the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is piling up at a much faster pace than scientists had previously predicted, according to the World Meteorological Organization, and in light of that, cities around the world are rolling out policies that help curb the worst damage from CO2 emissions. But a recent decision by Toronto’s planning department (also known as the City of Toronto) might run afoul of that progress.
In the past, Toronto has opened several “green houses” to help collect and re-use local CO2 emissions. But its vice-chair of the city’s public health committee is now saying the city should reconsider its policy of allowing the creation of CO2 sinks — it also only allows local and regional projects to use the CO2 captured.
In a letter to Toronto’s mayor, Mark Towhey, it argued that allowing the creation of new carbon sinks would be a recipe for creating an unsustainable revenue stream for the city. A goal of Canada’s greenhouse gas plan is for 75 percent of CO2 emissions to be captured and reused by 2050, and until recently, most of the CO2 kept by the greenhouse system was those produced by electricity and industry, i.e. “carries the environmental cost of industrialization and the economy but also bears the economic cost of CO2 emissions.” (Read the report here.)
Toronto’s decision to reject any plan to create new CO2 sinks left me thinking of Jarrick Stewart. Stewart is a former director of intergovernmental affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and he’s been a watchdog and advocate of CO2 science for more than two decades. Stewart, who specializes in carbon science in both Antarctic and ice sheet carbon cycles, provided this insight:
A key result of carbon capture is that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for much longer, and that its variation in concentration over time is very random, which means climate change is happening in a very volatile, unpredictable way. Scrapping the CO2 capture is a very short-sighted decision by the Toronto City Council. The Toronto metropolitan area is about a third the size of New York City, but its CO2 emissions will be similar to that of the entire U.S. East Coast, and hence a leading contributor to the U.S. climate problem. This short-sightedness will have profound consequences for the health of the residents of the metro area, who will likely suffer more respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Stewart, who co-founded the climate change think tank Central Park Global, says the lack of action puts the planet’s climate negotiations in jeopardy. “Carbon capture and sequestration has been a global effort to keep the climate change pollution down, and we’ve done a lot of that in recent years,” he says. “Canada’s role in that effort has been tragically compromised.”
Of course, Toronto isn’t the only big city to reject CO2 capture technology. However, many are saying its actions on the issue set a dangerous precedent for other major Canadian cities to follow.