Dialing Back The CO2 At uOttawa

dial with hand turning towards smaller numbers

So the federal government just announced that they are half way to reaching their Copenhagen emissions goal this week. (You can read the CBC article here). Not bad.... not bad at all. But unfortunately not good enough. The energy and environment engineers here at uOttawa also just finished crunching some numbers this week. The result, our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the lowest we have ever recorded - basically since 1974.

So let's deconstruct some of the numbers.
In 1974, our direct GHG emissions were 27,223 tonnes. (*direct emissions mean everything that we burn here on campus like natural gas, oil, fuel in our cars, etc.)
In 2011, our direct GHG emissinos were 15,556 tonnes, a 43% reduction.

Under Canada's Kyoto obligations, uOttawa would have had to reduced its total emissions by 6% of 1990 levels by 2012. (*total emissions include everything you burn and all the emissions associated with the electricity you use).
In the 1990's our total GHG emissions were 32,177 tonnes
A 6% reduction would be 30,246 tonnes - which the University achieved in 2010
Our total emissions this past year were 28,911 - this is 10% below 1990 levels

Under Canada's Copenhagen obligations, uOttawa would have had to reduced its total emissions by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020.
In 2005, our total GHG emissions were 37,555 tonnes
A 15% reduction would be 31,170 tonnes - which we achieved in 2012
Our total emissions this past year were 28,911 - this is 23% below 2005 levels

So when the government announced that they were halfway to their goal, our first reaction was "what's taking them so long?"
The Sustainable Development Committee of the University of Ottawa has set a goal of reducing GHG emissions by 34% before 2020 (that's technically double the Copenhagen target). We have actually even been toying with the idea of trying to advance the time line to 2015 (five years ahead of schedule).

Minister Peter Kent's announcement was welcome news, don't get me wrong, but there are a whole bunch of factors that aren't really fair. Canada got a special bonus in GHG emissinos reduction because we have so many forests. And Environment Canada has come out with a statement that by 2020, Canada's GHG emissions will be 19% above the goal (check out the article here). Most of this will be attributed to Oil Sands development.

So what is uOttawa's secret to a low carbon diet? Well I wish I could say that this was the greatest challenge we ever faced but I would be lying because the reality of it is that this was kind of easy to do. Not to take away from the amazing work of the good people at Physical Resources Service, but there have been a few contributing factors that have been beyond our control. First of all our winters are getting warmer so we are saving on that front. But mostly reducing GHG's saves a ridiculous amount of money. We have every reason in the world to use less energy, including monetary ones.

uOttawa benefits from the fact that the government of Ontario is very progressive on energy reduction. There are a myriad of financial incentives for doing very simple stuff. For us, there were no special tricks involved. We didn't switch to any renewable technologies or even install futuristic equipment. We just did more with what we had.

This year we are going to work hard at the University of Ottawa to do more social awareness about energy issues. I don't want to be political but the federal government could take a page from the province of Ontario and create more incentives for good behaviour.

~ jon - campus sustainability manager
photo credit - jonathan rausseo