Technological progress has an enormous role to play in environmental improvements. Two researchers have published a list of essential recommendations and suggestions for radically reducing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere from the urban environment.

The urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has been thoroughly demonstrated and we already possess the technology to drastically reduce the rate of current CO2 emissions, argue Lorraine Sugar and Christopher Kennedy, researchers at the department of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. They have drawn up a set of guidelines for Canadian municipalities based solely on modifications which they say can currently be made to existing infrastructure. The plan which they have put forward estimates that a reduction of 31% (following current policies) to 71% (by implementing more ‘aggressive’ policies) in GHG emissions can be achieved over the next twenty years.

Encouraging ‘greener’ lifestyles

The ‘current’ scenario they present is based on modernising buildings without completely turning upside down the lifestyle of a city’s inhabitants. The duo have set out measures that are deemed to be reasonable, taking as case study the city of Toronto between now and 2031. The main thrust is to reduce overall energy demand, increase the use of solar power and exploit waste heat through ground source heat pumps. Renovating a building could in fact reduce energy emissions by 20-30%, and planting ‘green’ roofs can result in 25% savings in CO2 emissions related to peak summer cooling in rooms immediately below the roof, they argue. In the urban transportation field, encouraging a shift away from private vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine to mass transit systems – including a policy of raising the price of parking in urban areas in order to dissuade drivers from using their cars – could lead to a 20% emissions reduction, even in the scenario which does not envisage replacing all petrol cars by electric-powered vehicles.

‘Aggressive’ scenario would re-shape the city of the future

A second approach envisaged by the researchers could reduce GHG emissions by 71%. While the first scenario described above involves partial changes, this more aggressive scenario would involve some drastic lifestyle changes for city inhabitants. Retrofitting all buildings constructed before 2012 would include replacing all standard incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, which could reduce private energy consumption on lighting by 81% and commercial building power consumption by 61%. In addition, commercial buildings would be fitted with green roofs and solar air heating and cooling. When it comes to public transit infrastructure, all currently planned Light Rail Transit lines would be constructed as subway lines, and there would be a complete shift to electric-powered road vehicles. These changes would however be radical, and while they are do-able in theory, it’s clear that the population would have to agree to some major lifestyle changes. The municipal authorities would therefore have to find both the political will and the funds in order to make these changes happen.


*A low carbon infrastructure plan for Toronto, Canada, by Lorraine Sugar and Christopher Kennedy, published by NRC Research Press.