Active Transportation Needs a Federal Champion

Twitter Cycling 2*Reprinted with permission of The Hill Times 

Prepared by Kim Perrotta and Judi Varga-Toth, December 11th, 2017

Canada needs a federal champion for active modes of transportation such as cycling and walking.   At present, no federal minister has been assigned responsibility for supporting active transportation in this country.  Mandate letters, used to set priorities for federal ministers, make no mention of active transportation.  This is a problem for so many reasons!

Active transportation is good for health!  Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes affect one in five Canadians and are the cause of 65% of all deaths in Canada.  They cost Canadians about $200 billion per year in lost-time and health care costs.  And the rate of chronic diseases is rising rapidly; by about 14% per year.

Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for chronic diseases.  Today, only one in five Canadian adults and one in ten Canadian children get the levels of physical activity needed to maintain good health.  Active transportation is an effective way to increase levels of physical activity because it allows people who have little free time to accomplish two tasks at one time.  They can “get exercise” while commuting to work or school.

People who walk or cycle to work live longer, healthier lives.  A five-year study conducted in the UK found that people who walk to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease by 36%.  It found that people who cycle to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes by 40 to 46%.   There is no drug in the world that can deliver that kind of health benefit!

Active transportation reduces emissions of air pollutants.  Air pollution kills tens of thousands of Canadians each year.  In cities, vehicles are often the most significant source of air pollution.  In Toronto, for example, it is estimated that  440 people will die prematurely and 1,700 people will be hospitalized each year because of traffic-related air pollution.   By encouraging people to replace short car trips with walking and cycling trips, we can reduce air pollution, and the heart and lung diseases, hospital admissions, and early deaths related to it.

Active transportation reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change.  Climate change has been declared the most significant public health threat of the 21st century by the World Health Organization.  This summer, 45,000 Canadians were evacuated from their homes by wildfires that have grown in frequency and intensity because of higher temperatures and longer droughts related to climate change.  Active transportation can reduce GHGs by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.   One study estimated that GHGs from vehicles in San Francisco could be reduced by 14% if people in the community increased the number of minutes spent walking and cycling for shorter trips from 4.5 to 22 minutes per day.

Investing in active transportation will produce many other co-benefits.  It can reduce sedentary behaviour and obesity in children.  It will reduce traffic injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists.  It can increase social equity by making it easier for women, teenagers, seniors, and people who live on low incomes, to access jobs and services. It can boost the economy by promoting tourism and local retailers.  It can reduce traffic congestion.  It can reduce health care costs!!

There are many things that federal government could and should do to foster active transportation in Canada.  It should: share gas tax transfers for active mobility; identify a modal share goal for Canada; create a dedicated active transportation infrastructure fund; and invest in cycling tourism; mandate side guards on large trucks; direct Statistics Canada to improve the data collected on cycling; incent the use of e-bikes; address unfair import duties affecting our bicycle industry; invest in cycling infrastructure for our national parks; ensure that the Trans Canada Trail and other trails are safe for cycling and walking.

The federal government has already recognized its role in protecting vulnerable road users. It must now step up and inspire Canadians to make our communities, large and small, places where people of all ages and abilities can get around actively on a daily basis.  We need a federal champion!

Take action!

A National Active Transportation Strategy can Reduce Chronic Diseases & Health Care Costs

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE

Eight national health organizations have sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Health asking her to invest in the development of a National Active Transportation StrategySignatories to the joint letter include Heart & Stroke, Diabetes Canada, Canadian Cancer Society, The Canadian Lung Association, Asthma Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Upstream, and CAPE.

The joint letter outlines a powerful public health and financial case for active transportation. Chronic diseases consume 67 per cent of the health care budget in Canada. These diseases cost Canadians $190 billion annually: about $65 billion in treatment and $135 billion in lost productivity.  Further, chronic disease rates are increasing rapidly, by about 14 per cent a year.  As a result, health care costs threaten to overwhelm provincial budgets across the country.

Fortunately, active transportation can help stem the tide. Physical activity reduces the risk of over 25 chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.  It also benefits mental health and arthritis.  Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Canadian adults get the 150 minutes of physical activity needed to achieve health benefits and fewer than one in 10 Canadian children get the 60 minutes a day of physical activity needed for healthy growth and development.  Changes to the built environment and other measures can increase physical activity, significantly reducing chronic diseases and their costs. One study found that the risk of premature death from all causes can be decreased by 28 per cent among people who cycle three hours per week and by 22 per cent among people who walk 29 minutes per day, seven days a week.

Increased walking and cycling can also reduce air pollution and its associated health impacts by replacing short car trips.  Investments in active transportation and public transit can also increase access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities among those who are unable to drive or cannot afford a car.  Changes such as speed reductions, separated bike lanes, and improved pedestrian crossings can also significantly reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists while also encouraging greater levels of physical activity.

A national alliance of active transportation organizations, including Green Communities Canada (Canada Walks), Canada Bikes, and the National ASRTS Working Group, have offered to lead the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy. This coalition would identify infrastructure funding and policies, design standards to be implemented, and support on-going partnerships and community action.

While the Federal Government has announced significant investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and transportation systems, without a National Active Transportation Strategy, we fear that we will miss the opportunity to maximize the health benefits that could result from these federal investments.

Let your Federal Member of Parliament know that you support the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy by emailing your MP today (Federal MP contact list).

Link to English and French versions of the Letter.

 

CAPE helps take legal action against Minister McKenna over Volkswagen scandal

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, July 2017

CAPE and Environmental Defence, with legal support from Ecojustice, are taking legal action against Federal Environment Minister McKenna, to force the federal government into investigating and punishing Volkswagen for their illegal importation and sales of emissions-cheating diesel vehicles in Canada.

In 2015, approximately 105,000 Volkswagen vehicles were sold in Canada that were capable of emitting up to 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The vehicles which did not comply with Canada’s emission standards were imported into the country with illegal software that would prevent emission testing devices from identifying the problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prosecuted Volkswagen, and the company agreed to pay a $15 billion settlement. In the same period of time, Canada has failed to conclude their investigation and no punitive measures have yet been taken.

“Volkswagen has already admitted that it perpetuated fraud against the public and put human health at risk by selling emissions-cheating vehicles,” said Amir Attaran, lawyer with Ecojustice’s law clinic at the University of Ottawa. “In taking zero enforcement action and levying no fines as other countries have, the Canadian government is leaving billions of dollars on the table – money that it could use to clean the environment.”

In 2008, the Canadian Medical Association estimated that 21,000 Canadians die every year from heart and lung diseases from polluted air. The Medical Officers of Health in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) have also estimated that traffic-related air pollution is responsible for 700 premature deaths and over 2800 hospital admissions for heart and lung conditions, per year, in the GTHA alone. The pollutant that Volkswagen’s illegal diesel vehicles were emitting –  NOx – is one the major ingredients in smog.  Once in the air, NOx are transformed into ground level ozone and fine particulate matter – the two air pollutants most clearly linked to hospital admissions, premature deaths, and chronic heart and lung diseases.

“Traffic-related air pollution is a huge problem in Canada. It is responsible for thousands of deaths and hospital admissions each year,” said Kim Perrotta, executive director of CAPE. “Volkswagen exceeded the legal standards and they tried to hide it with emissions-cheating devices. The federal government has to take action to demonstrate that companies cannot get away with this type of blatant disregard for Canada’s emission standards and human health.”

The federal government needs to put Canadian health interests first, and punish companies that do not follow emissions regulations. The inefficient investigation underway with Volkswagen sets the standard that Canada’s environment and health standards do not need to be upheld. Instead, a more transparent and proactive approach needs to be taken on by the Ministry of the Environment that will protect Canadians and their health for years to come.

The Fight for a Bike and Pedestrian Highway Overpass in Montreal

[version français ici]

Above: Félix Gravel, Sylvie Bernier, and Dr. Eric Notebaert at a rally in support of the Turcot Dalle-Parc project in June 2017.

Prepared by Dr Éric Notebaert, Board Member, CAPE, March 21, 2017

This spring, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment is partnering with the Conseil Régional de l’Environnement de Montréal and several environmental groups in a major campaign to promote active transportation: the Return of the Turcot Dalle-Parc project.

Dr Éric Notebaert, CAPE board member, speaking at the campaign’s launch event.

The Turcot Interchange, a major highway interchange in southwest Montreal, is currently under renovation. This is a major infrastructure project—costing more than $4 billion—which originally included a large, green overpass connecting two zones of Montreal in the plans. This overpass, the “Dalle-Parc”, is a project that connects the upper part of the city (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount) and the lower part (Verdun–Pointe-Saint-Charles). This slab that passes over the highway and the railway is a structure that can allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross this area in a safe way. It is a great project that greatly benefitspedestrians and cyclists, and is also connected to a rail shuttle service to the Montreal airport in Dorval.

Dalle-Parc Turcot
Image of the planned overpass for pedestrians and cyclists from the 2010 project plan.

This Dalle-Parc project not only greatly favours active transportation, but it will give people in many neighbourhoods easier and safer access to hospitals and other employment and development centers. If it is not implemented, cyclists will have to make a 10km detour to traverse a distance of barely 1km. The Dalle-Parc project will also significantly reduce pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by the city.

In the initial project to renovate the Turcot Interchange in 2010, this Dalle-Parc was the only truly interesting environmental aspect of this huge construction site. The Dalle-Parc therefore had the support of all the environmental groups and citizens of the city. However, in the latest version from the Quebec Ministry of Transport (MTQ) in 2015, the Dalle-Parc was simply gone. No one at the MTQ seems to be able to explain this decision. It is important to note that the cost of the Dalle-Parc is estimated at $40 million, or 1-2% of the total cost of refurbishing of the interchange.

Left: 2010 project plan, including the Dalle-Parc. Right: 2015 project plan, the Dalle-Parc has disappeared.

We are asking the MTQ for the reinstatement of the Dalle-Parc. The current campaign has several components: meeting with municipal, provincial and federal politicians; social, festive, cultural, and sporting events; meeting with local groups; meeting with the media; etc.

This campaign will certainly last several months. But it will last as long as it takes. We are absolutely determined to win this battle for the health of the population… and the planet.

 

Retour de la Dalle-Parc Turcot

[English version here]

UN ENJEU MAJEUR DE SANTÉ PUBLIQUE ET D’ENVIRONNEMENT POUR MONTRÉAL : LE RETOUR DE LA ‘DALLE-PARC’ DANS L’ÉCHANGEUR TURCOT

Ci-dessus: Félix Gravel, Sylvie Bernier, et Dr. Eric Notebaert lors d’un rassemblement à l’appui du Dalle-Parc Turcot en juin 2017.

Dr Éric Notebaert, membre du conseil d’administration de l’ACME, June 2017

Ce printemps, l’Association Canadienne des Médecins pour l’Environnement s’associe au Conseil Régional de l’Environnement de Montréal et à plusieurs groupes environnementaux dans une importante campagne de promotion du transport actif.  Il s’agit du projet Retour de la Dalle-Parc Turcot.

Dr Éric Notebaert, membre du conseil d’administration de l’ACME, en parlant à l’événement de lancement de la campagne.

Le grand échangeur routier du sud-ouest de Montréal, l’échangeur Turcot est actuellement en réfection. Il s’agit d’un projet majeur de plus de 4 milliards de dollars, dans lequel une grande plate forme verte entre 2 zones de Montréal était initialement prévue dans les plans. Cette plate forme, la Dalle-Parc est un projet qui permet de relier la partie haute de la ville : Notre Dame de Grâce-Westmount et la partie basse : Verdun-Pointe St-Charles. Cette dalle qui passe au dessus de l’autoroute et de la voie ferrée est un ouvrage qui peut permettre aux piétons et cyclistes de traverser cette zone de façon sécuritaire. Il s’agit d’un beau projet qui favorise grandement les piétons et cyclistes, et qui est, de plus, en lien avec une navette ferroviaire dans l’axe Montréal-Aéroport de Dorval.

Dalle-Parc Turcot
Image du Dalle-Parc Turcot prévu tiré du plan de projet de 2010.

Ce projet de Dalle-Parc permet non seulement de favoriser grandement le transport actif, mais grâce à lui, les citoyens et citoyennes de plusieurs quartiers ont plus facilement accès aux centres hospitaliers et autres pôles d’emplois et de développement, et ce, de façon très sécuritaire. S’il n’est pas réalisé, les cyclistes auront à faire un grand détour de 10 Km pour parcourir une distance d’à peine 1Km. Le projet de la Dalle-Parc permet en outre de diminuer de façon substantielle la pollution et les Gaz à Effet de Serre émis par la ville.

Dans le projet initial de réfection de l’échangeur Turcot en 2010, cette Dalle-Parc était le seul aspect véritablement intéressant au niveau environnemental de ce gigantesque chantier. La Dalle-Parc avait donc le soutien de tous les groupes environnementaux et des citoyens et citoyennes de la ville. Or dans la dernière version du Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) en 2015, la Dalle-Parc était tout simplement disparue. Personne au MTQ ne semble pouvoir expliquer cette décision. Il est important de souligner que le coût de la Dalle-Parc est estimé à 40 millions de dollars, soit 1-2% du budget total de réfection de l’échangeur.

À gauche: projet présenté en 2010, avec la Dalle-Parc. À droite: projet présenté en 2015, la Dalle-Parc a disparu.

Nous demandons dont au MTQ la réinsertion de la Dalle-Parc. La campagne actuelle a plusieurs volets : rencontre avec les politiciens municipaux, provinciaux et fédéraux; rencontre avec les groupes locaux, événements sociaux, festifs, sportifs, culturels, rencontre avec les médias, etc…

Cette campagne durera certainement plusieurs mois. Mais elle durera le temps qu’il faudra. Nous sommes absolument déterminés à gagner cette bataille. Il en va de la santé de la population…et de la planète.

 

Prescribing Active Travel for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: A Toolkit for Health Professionals

As health professionals, we know how important it is for our patients to be physically active. After all, physical activity is known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such heart disease and diabetes. It also improves mental health and provides some relief from arthritis. But we also know that many people have difficulty finding the time to get the levels of physically activity needed to maintain good health. Studies bear this out; the number one barrier to physical activity is time. This is particularly true for women with young children. This is where active modes of transportation (such as walking and cycling) and transit use come in. Research has demonstrated that many people can fold physical activity into their lives if they combine it with other activities such as errands, commuting to work, or taking the kids to school.

As health professionals, we are well positioned to encourage our patients to think about active transportation as a way to get the physical activity they need to stay healthy. When we use the phrase “active transportation”, we mean any activity used to get people from one destination to another that involves physical activity. It can include skate boarding or in-line skating, but usually involves walking or cycling. When we use the phrase “active travel”, we are referring to transit use as well as active transportation because many trips on transit begin or end with walking or cycling.

Unfortunately, many communities across Canada have not been designed to encourage and foster active modes of transportation or transit. Many were built during a time when it was considered wise to separate homes and schools from workplaces and amenities. This led to communities designed around cars; sprawling neighbourhoods with winding roads and cul-de-sacs separated from shopping malls that grouped all amenities into one place. Experience and research has demonstrated the problem with this thinking. We now understand the need for compact neighbourhoods that have enough people in them to support efficient transit service and attract restaurants, stores, and other services. We know that streets built on a grid encourage people to walk and cycle to nearby amenities. We know that streets lined with sidewalks encourage walking by making it safer and easier to do. And we know that busy streets with separated bike lanes are safer for cyclists and encourage more people to ride their bicycles.

But changing the design of communities and streets can be difficult. Resistance can come from a number of different sources. As health professionals, we can play an important role in community decisions. We can help educate the public and decision-makers about the many health benefits of community and street designs that support and foster a healthy lifestyle.

CAPE has produced a new toolkitPrescribing Active Travel for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: A Toolkit for Health Professionals—to help health professionals become advocates of active transportation and transit with their patients and in their communities. The toolkit is designed with five stand-alone modules so people can focus on the ones of most interest to them. Module 1 describes the health, environmental and social benefits of active travel. Module 2 provides strategies to motivate patients to use active travel. Module 3 explains the links between active transportation and community design. Module 4, designed for health professionals in southern Ontario, focuses on Ontario’s Growth Plan and how it impacts active travel. Module 5 provides strategies for promoting change in one’s community. The toolkit also includes two factsheets and brochures that health professionals can give to their patients, two backgrounders that can be used in meetings with the public or decision-makers, and a series of memes that can be used on Twitter or Facebook to make people think about the many benefits of walking, cycling, and transit for society as a whole.

The toolkit and its various supporting documents can be found at https://cape.ca/active-travel-toolkit/

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, March 20, 2017

Health Professionals Call for End for Coal

Coal Power Plant for Electricity Production - Chimeneas Industriales

CAPE Media Release, Toronto, May 18, 2016

More than 300,000 doctors, nurses, public health professionals and public health advocates represented by 82 organizations from 30 countries have released a Global Health Statement on Coal Plants today, in anticipation of next week’s G7 summit.  The statement calls on the G7 leaders to discuss the phase-out of coal plants as a key health issue when they meet on May 26 and 27. 

In Canada, 12 organizations have signed the statement including the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Lung Association, the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).   

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that “climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” said Dr. Courtney Howard, emergency room physician in Yellowknife and Board Member of CAPE. “The WHO estimates that climate change will claim the lives of 250,000 people each year by 2030 unless we take dramatic steps to reduce emissions today.”

Canada can be a global leader on this issue, building on momentum from the provinces.  Ontario no longer burns coal for electricity and Alberta intends to follow suit by 2030.  Accelerating the transition away from coal creates immediate health benefits: the avoided health impacts from Ontario’s phase-out alone are valued at approximately $3 billion per year.

“We want our leaders to understand that they can produce significant air pollution health benefits in their home countries by phasing out coal plants,” said Ian Culbert, Executive Director of the CPHA.  “The air pollution from coal plants has been clearly linked to increases in heart disease, strokes, lung diseases including lung cancer, and asthma symptoms.” 

“Ontario’s six coal plants produced approximately 600 premature deaths and 900 hospital admissions each year back in 2005” said Kim Perrotta, Executive Director CAPE.  “With their phase-out, levels of air pollution in Ontario have declined dramatically along with air pollution-related health impacts.”  

“In Alberta, the phase-out of 18 coal-fired generators is expected to produce health benefits worth about $300 million per year,” offered Dr. Joe Vipond, emergency room physician in Calgary and CAPE member.  “Imagine what we could achieve if we phased out the 16 coal-fired generators in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan as well”.

A copy of the Global Health Statement on Coal Plants is available here: https://cape.ca/global-health-statement-on-coal-plants/

 

What’s Changed about Climate Change?

Icey Branches - Hydro Wire - Newmarket, Ontario (1)
Photo: K. Perrotta, North York, Ontario

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 24, 2016.

There are huge changes in the field of climate change:

1. There is a common understanding now that climate change is happening and poses a significant threat to the environment, human health, and economies around the world.  The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that, if all trends stay the same, the world is headed towards a 2°C increase in the average global temperature by 2050 and more than a 4°C increase by 2100, relative to the pre-industrial times (i.e. 1850-1900) (1).  

At the Paris Climate Conference late in 2015, people learned about the calamitous outcomes that would be associated with these temperature increases, and nearly 200 countries agreed to work towards goals that would “keep the temperature rise well below 2°C“.  Some, including Canada, offered to work toward goals that would keep temperatures below a 1.5° rise (2). 

2.  It is now understood that a huge transformation is needed to slow climate change. To keep the temperature rise below 2° over the 21st century, the IPCC estimates that global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) must be cut by 40 to 70% by 2050 compared to 2010.  To keep the temperature rise below 1.5°, emissions will need to be cut by 70 to 95% by 2050 compared to 2010 (3).  

Solar Panel on Farm, Haliburton, Ontario, Kim Perrotta
Photo: K. Perrotta, Haliburton, Ontario

3.  The energy sector IS changing!  Fossil fuels are giving way to renewable energies and energy efficient technologies.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has noted that renewable energies are growing quickly in response to climate supportive policies. In fact, the IEA reported that, collectively renewables became the second largest source of electricity, with coal in the lead, in 2014 (5).  It

is forecasting that global demand for electricity will grow by 70% by 2040, but coal`s share of total electricity will drop by 30%, while renewable-based electricity will provide about 50% of Europe`s electricity, 30% of China and Japan`s electricity, and 25% of India and United States` electricity (5).

Improvements in energy efficiency restrained energy demand in 2015 to one third of what it would have been without them according to the IEA (5).  It notes that energy efficiency regulations doubled their coverage of industry, buildings and the transportation sector from 14% of the world`s energy consumption in 2005 to 27% in 2014 (5).  

4.  Renewable technologies are becoming cost competitive.  The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that solar photo-voltaic (PV) module prices have dropped by 75% since 2009 and that residential solar PV modules now cost 65% less than they did in 2008 (4).  The Climate Group predicts that the production costs of solar panels will drop by an additional 40 to 50% by the end of the decade (4).

Vestas Wind Energy reports that it has now installed 55,000 wind turbines in 74 countries on six continents (4).  It notes that the real cost of wind energy has dropped by 58% over the last five years putting wind in the same cost range as coal and natural gas in many jurisdictions (4). 

Wind Turbines, Leamington, Ontario, Kim Perrotta
Photo: K.Perrotta, Leamington, Ontario

5.  The investment sector is targeting energy efficient and low carbon technologies.  The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Finance Initiative reports that investors are forming coalitions to identify investments that do not involve fossil fuels (i.e., decarbonize their investments).  He reports that the Signatories to the Principles of Renewable Investment now represent over $50 trillion in investments worldwide and that green bonds, worth US$60 billion, were issued in 2015 (4).

6.  The energy transformation is expected to produce significant health benefits.  Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has identified the Climate Agreement sought in Paris as “the most important health agreement of the century“.  She identified it as “an opportunity to promote actions that can yield large and immediate health benefits, and reduce costs to health systems and communities“(6).  For example, the closure of the six coal-fired power plants in Alberta is expected to produce air pollution-related health benefits worth approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion over 10 years (7).

7.The energy transformation can produce economic opportunities and jobs!  Estimates indicate that Canada’s clean energy generation sector brought in CAD$10.9 billion in 2014; up 88% from 2013 (CEC, 2015).  Estimates also suggest that the clean energy sector provided 26,900 jobs in Canada in 2013; up by 14% from the previous year (8).

8.  What does Canada need to do?  In 2013, Canada emitted 726 mega-tonnes (1 million tonnes or MT) of greenhouse gases: 25% from the oil and gas industry, 23% from the transportation sector, 12% from the electricity sector, 12% from buildings, 11% from energy intensive industries, 10% from the agricultural sector, and 7% from waste and other sectors (9).  Canada is committed to reducing GHG emissions to 622 MT by 2020 and 524 MT by 2030 (9).  Where are these emission reductions going to come from?  This will be the focus on negotiations between the federal government and the provinces over the coming months beginning this week.  

References:

  1. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2013. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.
  2. Watters, Haydn.   5 Key Points in Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  CBC. Dec 12, 2015.
  3. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2015. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policy Makers.
  4. COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). 2015. Climate Change 2015-2016. http://www.climateactionprogramme.org/bookstore/book_2015
  5. International Energy Agency (IEA). 2015. World Energy Outlook 2015 Factsheet.  Global energy trends to 2040.
  6. The Global Climate & Health Alliance (GCHA).   Health and Climate at COP21 and Beyond. 
  7. Pembina Institute, CAPE, Asthma Society, Lung Association of Alberta and NWT. 2013. A Costly Diagnosis – Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.  Prepared by Kristi Anderson, Tim Weis, Ben Thibault, Farrah Khan, Beth Nanni, and Noah Farber.  http://cape.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/costly-diagnosis.pdf
  8. Clean Energy Canada (CEC). 2015. Tracking the Energy Revolution – Canada 2015. 
  9. Government of Canada (Canada).   Canada’s Second Biennial Report on Climate Change.

The ABC’s of Global Climate Change

Siur-thinkstock-480457436-Coal Stacks

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 17, 2016

In 2015, the International Panel on Climate Change (Panel) reported that: greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from human activity are now higher than any other period in human history; the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere is now higher than at any other time in the last 800,000 years; and it is “extremely likely” that emissions from human activity, along with other human activities such as deforestation, have been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century (1).

The Panel reported that, in 2010, approximately 49 Gigatonnes (Gt) of GHGs were emitted from human activity, and that fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes were responsible for more than three quarters of those emissions (1).

According to the Panel, there is fairly strong to very strong evidence that climate change has: more than doubled the occurrence of heat waves in some locations; increased heat-related deaths in some regions; increased extreme precipitation and the risks of flooding in some regions; increased extreme sea levels (e.g., storm surges) since 1970 as a result of increasing sea levels; and significantly increased the vulnerability of some ecosystems and human populations to heat waves, droughts, floods, and cyclones (1).

51Systems-Thinkstock-490736941-Flooded Neighbourhood

The impacts of climate change on human health and the environment are expected to become more extreme as we move through the 21st century.  Under a number of different scenarios, it is predicted that climate change will: increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and extreme precipitation; increase ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea levels; continue to melt permafrost and glaciers; increase the risk of extinction for many plants and animals; undermine the security of food and water supplies; and increase the displacement of people (1).  

The severity of these risks, however, will vary significantly depending upon the actions taken to reduce emissions and protect carbon sinks.  The risks are expected to be severe if global temperatures increase by 4 degrees relative to pre-industrial times.  They are expected to be moderate to high if global temperatures increase by 1 to 2 degrees.  While some of the risks of climate change are now unavoidable, the risks of climate change can be substantially reduced by aggressively cutting emissions of GHGs in the very near future (1).   

In order to keep the global temperature from increasing by 2 degrees, models suggest that annual GHG emissions around the world must be reduced by 40 to 70% of 2010 levels by the year 2050.  To keep the global temperature from increasing by 1.5 degree, annual GHG emissions must be reduced by 70 to 95% of 2010 levels by the year 2050 (1).

Wind Turbines, Leamington, Ontario, Kim PerrottaIn order to meet these aggressive goals, the Panel has identified a number of key measures: moving away from the use of coal and other fossil fuels for the generation of electricity; enhancing energy efficiency to reduce energy demand; and encouraging behavioural changes to reduce energy demand.  In the majority of the models that support a stable climate future, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (e.g., hydro electricity, solar energy, wind turbines) increases from current levels of about 30% to more than 80% by 2050 (1).  

The Panel notes that many of the actions needed to reduce GHG emissions are associated with co-benefits or adverse side effects.  It notes, however, that the co-benefits associated with “energy end-use measures” outweigh the potential for adverse side effects (1).  For example when coal plants are phased out with investments in energy efficiency and renewable energies, significant health benefits can result from improvements in air quality (2).  Likewise, when public transit and bike lanes shift commuters out of their vehicles, significant health benefits can result from improvements in air quality and increases in the levels of physical activity among residents (3).    

References: 

  1. International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2015. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report for Policy Makers. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf
  2. Pembina Institute, CAPE, Asthma Society, Lung Assocation of Alberta and NWT. 2013. A Costly Diagnosis – Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.  Prepared by Kristi Anderson, Tim Weis, Ben Thibault, Farrah Khan, Beth Nanni, and Noah Farber.  http://cape.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/costly-diagnosis.pdf
  3. Grabow, Maggie, Scott Spak, Tracey Holloway, Brian Stone Jr., Adam Menick, Jonathan Patz. 2011. “Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits from Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States”,Environmental Health Perspectives.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1103440

Closing Alberta’s Coal Plants – A Boon for Canada’s Climate and Alberta’s Air Quality

coal stack header - cropped

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), and Dr. Joe Vipond, Emergency Room Physician in Calgary and CAPE member, November 2, 2015

The closure of 18 generators in six coal-fired power plants in Alberta would produce climate benefits for all Canadians and immediate air quality health benefits for Albertans.  The Canadian government has proposed a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to levels that are 30% below 2005 emission levels by the year 2030 to help slow climate change.  Unfortunately, current projections suggest that Canada will be emitting 11% more emissions than 2005 levels by 2030 (1).  This means there is an urgent need for dramatic action across Canada.  Alberta is the most carbon intensive province in the country.  It is currently responsible for 37% of all greenhouse gases emitted by Canadians and its six coal-fired power plants contributed 17% of those emissions (2).  If Alberta were to phase-out these coal plants, as Ontario has done, it could reduce all of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6%.    

Figure 1: Map produced by Environment Canada; Notations added by Pembina Institute
Figure 1: Map produced by Environment Canada; Notations added by Pembina Institute

This phase-out would simultaneously produce significant health benefits for Albertans.  In 2011, the six coal plants were responsible for one third of the sulphur dioxide, 10 per cent of the nitrogen oxides, and 6 per cent of the industrial fine particulate matter emitted into Alberta’s air (3).  These air pollutants, and the fine particulate matter that is created in the air from them, are the common air pollutants that have been clearly and consistently linked to premature deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits for conditions such as congestive heart failure, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma (4). These air pollutants have also been shown to increase the rates of chronic heart and lung diseases, including lung cancer and asthma, among the general population (4).

Using the Illness Cost of Air Pollution (ICAP) model, CAPE and its partners estimated that, each year, air pollution from Alberta’s coal-fired power plants give rise to approximately: 100 premature deaths, 700 visits to Alberta’s emergency departments, 80 hospital admissions, and 4,800 asthma symptom days (3).  The ICAP model valued these health impacts at approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion when extrapolated over a 10 year period (3).  These are preventable health impacts!

Figure 2: Sulphur Dioxide Emissions by Sector, Ontario, 2003-2012 (6)
Figure 2: Sulphur Dioxide Emissions by Sector, Ontario, 2003-2012 (6)

Policy changes can and do improve air quality and human health.  Ontario, which phased out its coal-fired power plants between 2004 and 2014, has seen significant improvements in its air quality.  The phase-out in Ontario removed 147,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 42,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides from Ontario’s airshed (5). While these air pollutants are harmful to health directly, they can also be transformed in the air into small liquid droplets that contribute to air levels of fine particulate matter.  

Between 2000 and 2010, annual air levels of sulphur dioxide in the City of Toronto decreased by 79%, nitrogen dioxide levels decreased by 36%, and fine particulate matter levels decreased by 30% (7).   Toronto Public Health reported that these improvements in air quality have have reduced: air pollution-related premature deaths in Toronto by 23% from 1,700 per year to 1,300 per year; and air pollution-related hospital admissions by 41% from 6,000 to 3,550 per year (7).  In other words, improvements in air quality are preventing 400 premature deaths and 2450 hospital admissions per year in Toronto alone (7).  While these improvements reflect policies implemented by several levels of government, the phase-out of coal plants in Ontario and south of the border, were significant contributors.

Today, the City of Edmonton, which is downwind from many of the coal-fired generators in Alberta, has higher levels of fine particulate matter than the City of Toronto.  While Ontario has been phasing out its coal-fired power plants, Alberta has been increasing its reliance on coal as a source of electricity.  By phasing out coal-fired power plants, Alberta could send a strong and positive message to the international community about its willingness to address climate change, while significantly improving the health of Albertans.  

For more information, see the energy page on the CAPE website or the Alberta Coal Phase-out Website. 

References: 

  1. Government of Canada (Canada). 2015. Canada’s INDC Submission to the UNFCCC, 2015 
  2. Alberta Government. 2015. Climate Leadership – Discussion Document. 
  3. Pembina Institute, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Asthma Society of Canada and The Lung Association Alberta and NWT (Pembina). 2013. A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health. 
  4. World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP Project. 
  5. Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA). 2002. Beyond Coal: Power, Public Health and the Environment. Prepared by Kim Perrotta. 
  6. Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (OMOE). 2014. Air Quality in Ontario 2013 Report. 
  7. Toronto Public Health (TPH). 2014. Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness Update. Technical Report.