Emissions climb toward pre-pandemic levels, risking 2030 targets

Emissions increased by 4.5% to 51.2 million tonnes from 2020 to 2021.

Carbon emissions in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area increased 4.5% in 2021, from 49.0 million tonnes to 51.2 million tonnes, climbing swiftly towards pre-pandemic levels.

This stands in contrast to the annual 8% decrease needed to hit our 2030 targets, a rate which only grows steeper if the region continues along its current trajectory.

This increase of 2.2 million tonnes was driven by rising emissions in almost every sector, underscoring the need for strong climate action across the board. While emissions increased in every region, there were large differences in the pace of increase, ranging from a massive 15% increase in Halton to a modest 1.3% increase in Toronto.

Emissions profiles stayed similar across the region. Buildings are still the top source of emissions, primarily due to the use of natural gas for heating and hot water. Natural gas emissions in buildings increased by 1.7%, a source of emissions despite the warmer winter and proven, cost-effective mitigation strategies that exist today. Emissions from electricity rose by a staggering 28% in 2021 due to the increasing use of natural gas-powered generating plants, which increase the carbon intensity of the Ontario electricity grid overall.

GTHA Emissions by Sector, 2021

Transportation emissions increased by 2.3% in 2021 after a sharp decrease in 2020 and are expected to continue to rebound in 2022. Reductions in transportation emissions due to changes in travel activity (e.g., increased work-from-home) remain the primary driver for the decrease in overall emissions relative to 2019. It is still unclear how much of this is temporary due to ongoing impacts of the pandemic and how much is the new normal.

Industrial emissions increased about 11%, but emissions from small- and medium-sized emitters are not tracked and may be significant. Carbon emissions from waste and agriculture changed by less than 1% in 2021.

For the first time, this inventory highlights the impact of upstream fugitive methane emissions related to natural gas consumption which, when included, adds 10-15% to overall emissions.

Total Carbon Emissions in the GTHA, 2015-2021 (MtCO2eq)

The longer-term trend indicates urban emissions in the region are flatlining. Despite a few successful policies and programs highlighted in this inventory, there has been little progress to reduce emissions since Ontario’s coal phaseout in 2014, which continues to be the single largest emission reduction action to date.

Without ambitious action by government, businesses, and residents alike, municipalities in the GTHA will miss their near-term climate targets by a significant margin and make achieving our long-term targets even more challenging. The tools to meet those targets, however, are proven and ready to scale today given the right mix of policies and ambition from municipalities across the region.


2021 Emissions Profiles