What does net-zero mean?

    When we heat our homes or drive our cars using fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released into the atmosphere. These are often referred to as emissions. Some of these emissions are absorbed by carbon sinks. Carbon sinks are natural systems like forests or wetlands that suck up and store carbon from the atmosphere. Net-zero refers to the balance between the amount of emissions produced and the amount that can be absorbed by these carbon sinks.

    To achieve net-zero, we need to reduce the amount of emissions that are released into the atmosphere so that it is equal to what can be absorbed by our natural environment. Think of it as a two-sided weighing scale!

    Why set a net-zero target?

    A net-zero target aligns with recommendations put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Keeping global warming under this threshold is important to avoid irreversible and catastrophic impacts.

    Thunder Bay will be joining jurisdictions and cities such as Canada, the City of Toronto, City of Vancouver, City of Edmonton, City of Montreal, and the City of Halifax. Thunder Bay will also be joining northern communities such as Kenora, Sault Ste. Marie, and Sudbury in ambitiously targeting net-zero GHG emissions.

    What do people in Thunder Bay think about climate change?

    Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents from the first NZS survey said that they believe climate change should be a high priority for the community.

    A community survey conducted by researchers at Lakehead University, the University of Northern British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University (Galway et al., 2020) found that 9 out of 10 Thunder Bay residents believe that our climate is changing and over 60% of community members in Thunder Bay believe that climate change should be a high or very high priority issue for the municipality.

    How does Thunder Bay compare to other cities?

    In 2016, on average, each Thunder Bay resident emitted 11.3 tonnes of CO2e. This is lower than the national average (19.6 tCO2e/per capita, 2016) and on par with the provincial average (11.5 tCO2e/per capita, 2018).

    Here’s how we compare to other cities in Northern Ontario:



    Emissions per Capita (tCO2e)

    City of Thunder Bay



    City of Sault Ste. Marie



    City of Greater Sudbury



    City of Timmins



    What is the City already doing about GHG emissions?

    In 2014, Thunder Bay City Council adopted the EarthCare Sustainability Plan (2014-2020) which included the following emissions target: By 2020, the community of Thunder Bay will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 2009 levels. By the end of 2019, Corporate GHG emissions were 26% below 2009 baseline levels, exceeding the goal laid out in the Plan.

    In 2019, Thunder Bay City Council approved the Corporate Energy Management Plan (2019-2024). The Plan outlines strategic initiatives to manage Corporate energy consumption and create a culture of conservation to ensure the wise use of energy within all City of Thunder Bay Operations.

    While the City has made significant progress with Corporate energy and emissions reductions, community wide emissions increased significantly from 2009-2016.

    Who is paying for these activities?

    The creation of the NZS was funded by grants from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Ontario Ministry of Energy, Northern Development, and Mines.

    Financing the net-zero pathway will be a complex task that requires support from multiple different partners. Decisions still need to be made to determine the roles the City and key stakeholders will play and who pays for certain climate initiatives. The actions and strategies proposed in the draft 50year implementation plan will be subject to the City’s democratic decision-making process. Due to the nature of this type of planning exercise, these decisions will be made on an ongoing basis throughout the implementation of the Strategy.

    What is the role of the City of Thunder Bay?

    The Corporation of the City of Thunder Bay is directly responsible for a small share of Thunder Bay’s emissions, yet plays a unique leadership role in taking climate action and organizing community efforts. The City of Thunder Bay, under the EarthCare umbrella, will steward the implementation of the NZS and commit to supporting and helping the community access the information and tools they need to assume ownership of the Strategy.

    The draft NZS includes a 5-year implementation framework that provides a set of near-term actions (2021-2025) for the Corporation that lay the groundwork for accomplishing the overarching long-term objectives in the NZS (see Appendix D).

    How can I get involved?

    Stay informed and learn more about how to get involved by registering for the EarthCare Newsletter at www.thunderbay.ca/earthcare or by following EarthCare Thunder Bay on Facebook.

    You can also:

    • Support government climate mitigation and lobbying efforts for more stringent climate and sectoral goals;
    • Invest in net-zero initiatives;
    • Participate in pilot projects that reduce GHG emissions or generate clean energy;
    • Access any low-cost funding made available from community partners to implement energy efficiency or fossil-fuel switching actions;
    • Walk, cycle, or use public transportation instead of driving; and
    • Reduce household waste.