CATCH News – June 4, 2010
Public input sought on city climate plans
The city has released a discussion paper on greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of obtaining public input on the challenges posed to Hamilton by global climate change. The document suggests higher density, cycling, much more transit and “highly protected agricultural land” are among the required solutions.
“Taking Stock: Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Hamilton” opens with two potential scenarios for the year 2060. One assumes serious action such as the changes noted above have taken place by 2012, while the other depicts the results of a no-action scenario where: “the temperature tops 30C close to 50 days each year; severe storms, at one time thought to happen once a century, are an annual event; the city’s infrastructure takes a constant beating, power outages are routine and it’s almost impossible to get property insurance for homes and businesses.”
The warnings are not out of line with scientific predictions, and may be overly optimistic given that Hamilton had two ‘one-in-a-hundred-year’ storms last year which imposed over $14 million in damages on municipal infrastructure and up to $100 million on homes. Climate scientists are already predicting 2010 will be the hottest year on record and will see an unprecedented reduction in ice cover in the Arctic.
The 18-page city document offers a more digestible version of a 152-page study on local greenhouse gases completed late last year that calculated 2007 emissions of 13.1 million tonnes. Municipal operations contribute slightly more than 1 percent of that total.
Council has promised to lower local government emissions by 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels – but the report predicts a nearly 19 percent decline even if the city takes no new actions, primarily because of the provincial government’s commitment to eliminate coal-fired generation of electricity. In contrast, overall city-wide greenhouse gas releases are expected to rise by 36 percent by the end of this decade largely as a direct result of expected population growth.
“As a community we need to take stock and go further to reduce our emissions,” says the city’s air quality and climate change coordinator Brian Montgomery in a media statement. “The intent of the discussion paper is to trigger discussion and insights and then have these conversations translate into tangible action from citizens to address climate change as a community.”  
At this point, no reduction targets have been set for the community as a whole. That decision could include using 1990 as a base year for comparison, as has been done in the Kyoto protocol and other international climate agreements – instead of 2005, the benchmark chosen by both the city and the Harper government. 
Canada’s emissions jumped by more than 25 percent over that 15 year period. If the city’s did as well, it means the promised 20 percent cut by 2020 actually translates into an increase over 1990 levels – and far above the 25 to 40 percent reductions being advocated by most climate scientists.
It also means reduction efforts in the 1990-2005 period aren’t credited. An Ontario report released this week, for example, shows industrial greenhouse gas emissions fell by over 16 percent between 1990 and 2008.
The city report acknowledges that its greenhouse gas calculations are not “perfect”. For example, the emissions exclude the two steel mills that together emit over 8 million tonnes a year, and don’t include household consumption of goods not produced in Hamilton.
The industries that are included accounted for a third of the 2008 emissions, while transportation contributed another fifth. Commercial properties were responsible for 26 percent, while home heating and electrical use generated 18 percent.
City government greenhouse gas emissions are dominated by buildings and transportation. Public transit service emitted 21,544 tonnes in 2008, but still a tiny fraction of the nearly one million tonnes produced by car and truck use across the city.
The city’s report and related climate change activities are available on-line. An electronic survey is being used to gather public responses.

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