The Goal

The City of Thunder Bay will adopt a Community Energy and Emissions Plan, shaped by a community engagement process, by January 2021, clearly outlining the path to become a net-zero carbon city by 2050.

 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!

About the Project

In 2019, the City of Thunder Bay received funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Province of Ontario’s Municipal Energy Plan Program for the creation of a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP). On January 13, 2020, Thunder Bay City Council declared a climate emergency emphasising the urgency of addressing climate change. The climate emergency reinforces the need for a CEEP to provide the community with the information and tools to make decisions that contribute to the decarbonisation of Thunder Bay.

A CEEP will help our community:

  • Improve energy efficiency;
  • Reduce energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Study the impact of future growth on energy needs;
  • Foster renewable energy production;
  • Support and guide economic development; and
  • Meaningfully participate in climate action.

Click on the boxes below to learn more about the CEEP development process:

 Step 1: Project Start and Data Collection

A Stakeholder Committee was formed to provide feedback and offer expert advice in the development of the CEEP from a cross-departmental and community perspective. The Stakeholder Committee is made up of 40 members from various community sectors. The Committee is scheduled to meet five times throughout the duration of the project.

Stakeholder Committee Sectors/Representatives
Sector # of Representatives
Business/Industry/Business Associations 8
Environmental Interest Groups 4
Educational Institutions 5
First Nations/Indigenous Organizations 2
Hospitals/Health Unit 4
Public at Large 6
Utilities 3
Municipal Administration 5
Municipal Boards 3


Energy use data was gathered across the City from corporate, community, and industrial sources.

How are emissions calculated?

Emissions are calculated based on the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are produced when a fuel is burned. Each type of fuel emits a different amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), and other GHGs, per unit of energy output or heat content. For example, 1 litre of gasoline produces 2.29 kg of CO2 and 1 litre of diesel produces 2.66 kg of CO2.

The three main GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). Each GHG has a different global warming potential (GWP) based on their ability to trap heat in the atmosphere, over a specific time horizon, compared to CO2. For example, over a 100-year time horizon the GWP of CO2 is 1 whereas the GWP of CH4 is 25 and N2O is 298.1

For simplicity, we can convert N2O and CH4 into carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) by multiplying the amount released into the atmosphere with its respective GWP. This gives us a common unit that we can use to compare the different types of gases.   

 Step 2: Establishing the Baseline and Business-as-Planned Scenario
The data gathered in Step 1 was used to create spatial energy-use maps and a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions baseline (2016) profile for the City of Thunder Bay and the reference (or business-as-planned scenario) projection for the community to 2050.

The spatial energy-use maps show us how much energy is being used in different parts of the city. This is further broken down into total energy consumption, energy use intensity (amount of energy used per m2 of building space), residential energy use, and transportation energy.

The GHG emissions baseline profile outlines the total amount of GHGs that were released into the atmosphere from all activities in Thunder Bay during the year 2016. 2016 was selected to coincide with the last national census. This will be used as the baseline that we compare all future emissions inventories to.

The business-as-planned (BAP) scenario represents the community’s projected energy use and emissions profile in 2050 if no changes are made to the way we operate. The BAP scenario is based on a series of assumptions regarding existing plans and policies that are likely to be in place through to 2050. Read the draft report: Baseline Inventory, Business-As-Planned Scenario and Energy Maps (2016 - 2050), or check out the key findings summarized below.

Key findings:

Summary of Thunder Bay's Baseline and Business-as-Planned Energy Use and Emissions
  2016 Baseline 2050 BAP % change
Total energy (PJ) 26.25 25.43 -3%
 Energy per capita (GJ/cap) 303   266  -11%
 Total emissions (MtCO2e)  1.23  1.16  -9%
 Emissions per capita (tCO2e/cap) 11   9.4  -15%


  • In 2016, Thunder Bay’s overall energy use was 26 petajoules (PJ) or 303 gigajoules (GJ) per capita. These figures include energy use from all sectors. One GJ is equivalent to the energy it takes to run 200 loads through your dishwasher, microwave 5556 bags of buttery popcorn, or spend 1667 hours gaming on your LED TV!
  • The largest energy user was the industrial sector, followed by transportation, residential, and the commercial sector.
  • Fossil fuels were the primary source (~95%) of Thunder Bay’s 1.2 Mt (1,228,000 tonnes of CO2e) of GHG emissions in 2016. The remaining ~5% were generated by organic waste and animal husbandry. What does CO2e mean? Find out more under Step 1: Project Start and Data Collection.
  • In 2016, on average, each Thunder Bay resident emitted 11 tonnes of CO2e! This is only projected to decrease by 15% in 2050, leaving a notable gap between projected GHG emissions and the community’s target of net-zero by 2050. Note: Your personal emissions may vary based on factors like your primary method of transportation, how often you travel by plane, and type of household heating. You can calculate your carbon footprint using one of the calculators listed in the Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Energy by Sector

 Graph of projected energy consumption 2016-2050

Figure 1: Projected BAP energy consumption (PJ) by sector, 2016-2050.

Emissions by Sector

Graph of proected GHG emissions 2016-2050 

Figure 2: Projected BAP GHG emissions (ktCO2e) by sector, 2016-2050. (Note: Fugitive emissions are natural gas distribution system methane leaks)

 Step 3: Identifying Actions & Modelling the Future
Step 3 uses the baseline and business-as-planned scenario to inform the types of low-carbon actions that will be considered for inclusion in the plan. Actions are selected based on their estimated GHG impact in each of the sectors outlined in Step 2. Selected actions are then used to model the future scenario (net-zero emissions by 2050).

Examples of low-carbon actions include:

  • Energy efficiency opportunities and improvements;
  • Building energy retrofit programs;
  • Use of renewable energy technologies;
  • Sustainable transportation initiatives; and
  • Building design and land-use elements.

A public survey was hosted on the project’s Get Involved page for 6 weeks (April 22-May 31, 2020) to give residents an opportunity to share their priorities for selecting community-wide climate actions. The results will inform the selection of low-carbon actions, as well as the criteria needed to develop an implementation plan. Read the full survey results or check out the key findings summarized below:

Key findings:

The top four priorities that respondents said they would like the City to consider with respect to the range of climate actions were:

  1. Reducing the most GHG emissions;
  2. Lifestyle and health impacts;
  3. Creating jobs and local economic activity; and
  4. Fair and unbiased application of actions in the community.
 Step 4: Developing the Plan
The low-carbon actions selected in Step 3, along with the future scenario, will be presented to the Stakeholder Committee (Fall 2020) to kick-off the implementation planning process. Implementation planning will examine policies, strategic partnerships, bylaws, and other opportunities for accelerating adoption of selected low-carbon actions in Thunder Bay
Step 5: Final Plan

The final draft plan will be presented to City Council for approval in early 2021. 

Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG), a workers’ co-operative focused on state-of-the-art community energy planning, climate action planning, and climate change adaptation projects, is the lead consultant on the development of the CEEP. SSG has engaged Arbora Management Services to assist in local engagement and workshop delivery for the CEEP process.

Public Engagement

The planning process kick-off event was held on Jan. 9, 2020 at Magnus Theatre, where EarthCare Thunder Bay hosted a film screening of the award-winning environmental documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. This sold-out event drew residents from across the City to learn more about the creation of the CEEP. In addition, an initial survey was launched on the community’s Get Involved page. Read more about the results from this survey.

Phase 2 of public engagement launched on Earth Day (April 22, 2020) with a second online survey. This survey allowed residents to participate in prioritizing the selection criteria for low-carbon actions. Read more about the results from this survey here.

We thank the community for their feedback as we work to set a path to achieve community-wide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Sign up for the EarthCare newsletter to receive a monthly update on the development of the Plan.

Didn’t get a chance to attend the kick-off event? You can still view the event boards. Our next Open House will be hosted virtually on the project’s Get Involved page in late 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions

 1. What do people in Thunder Bay think about climate change?

Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents from the first CEEP 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 (Perspectives on Climate Change in Thunder Bay - Findings from a Community Survey, 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.

 2. 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). Source: Government of Canada Greenhouse Gas Emissions 1990-2018 webpage

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

Emissions per Capita: Thunder Bay and other Northern Ontario Cities
Municipality Year Emissions per Capita (tCO2e)
City of Thunder Bay 2016 11.3
City of Sault Ste. Marie 2017 20.5
City of Greater Sudbury 2016 7.4
City of Timmins 2017 6.7
 3. 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, the community actually saw an increase in emissions from 2009-2016.

 4. How much is this going to cost?

The creation of the CEEP is funded by grants from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Province of Ontario’s Municipal Energy Plan Program.

Financing the low carbon pathway will be a complex task that requires support from multiple different partners. The final CEEP will include an economic and financial analysis highlighting required expenditures and savings for both the business-as-planned and low-carbon scenarios.


Learn More

If you would like to learn more about climate change, please visit the Thunder Bay Climate Change Connection. This website outlines climate basics, the impacts of climate change in the Northwest, how you can take action, and ways to talk about this tough issue with friends and family.


Municipal Energy Planning

The process:

Other municipal plans:

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint


Energy Efficiency at Home
Renewable Energy
Lesson Plans/Activities



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