City of Toronto declares climate emergency

Toronto smallCanada’s largest city,  Toronto, has unanimously adopted a climate emergency resolution on September 20, joining hundreds of other municipalities across Canada.  The city’s TransformTO Climate Action Plan, passed in 2017, had a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 city levels by 2050.  The emergency resolution passed in September speeds up that timetable, with a new commitment to net zero emissions before 2050. (As of July 2019, the city was ahead of schedule with a 44% reduction below 1990 levels). The action was precipitated by a Call to Action , which includes a call for a “Just Economic Transition” and for “Equity and Inclusion” is described in a press release from the Toronto Environmental Alliance: “Forty-seven organizations call on Toronto City Council to declare a climate emergency” (Sept. 20). The Call to Action statement is here , the list of signatories is here , and it includes Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Toronto Community Benefits Network, Good Jobs for All, and BlueGreen Alliance.  A spokesperson for the Toronto Environmental Alliance states:  “The good news is that just about everything that Toronto needs to do will improve our quality of life. For example, properly insulating our buildings will make them more energy efficient and safe from extreme weather, and create jobs for people in the skilled trades…. If developed in a thoughtful and well-coordinated way, green workforce strategies can be inclusive and reduce poverty.”

The mayor’s  voluntary Green Ways Initiative is described in “Mayor John Tory enlists major institutions in emissions plan as Toronto declares ‘climate emergency’” in the Toronto Star.  Developers, hospitals, and universities are being urged to cut their energy consumption and emissions – and one of those volunteer entities, the University of Toronto, announced its Low Carbon Action Plan  on September 27.  The University of Toronto maintains 266 buildings on three campuses, and more than half of those are over 80 years old.  Other participants in the Green Ways Initiative include include Oxford Properties, Ryerson University, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto Community Housing, and the University Health Network.

gardiner toronto_trafficThe major criticism of the climate emergency resolution is outlined in “Toronto just declared a climate emergency, so why is it still fixing up the Gardiner?” at the CBC (Oct. 4), referring to the major highway artery across Toronto’s downtown.  Journalist  John Lorinc also pursues this in his article in Spacing (Sept. 30), which contends that the Gardiner Expressway redevelopment project accounts for 5% of the city’s entire $40.7 billion ten-year capital budget, which is money which could be better used to fund transit, such as the Queen’s Quay East LRT, or to finance the retrofitting of the city’s portfolio of buildings, including community housing.  To these criticisms, the mayor is quoted in the Toronto Star and the CBC with this statement: “The amount we’re spending on rebuilding a small part of the Gardiner Expressway pales in comparison to what we’re investing in public transit to get people out of their cars entirely”.

102 Cities globally are sourcing 70% of their energy from renewables

Recent meetings have prompted the release of several new research reports about cities, described as the “front-line of climate action” at the 10th anniversary meetings of the EU’s Covenant of Mayors in February . The biggest meeting, and first-ever Cities and Climate Change Science Conference , was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and was held in Edmonton, Alberta in March 5 – 7. The conference commissioned five reports , and included several others, including “Six Research Priorities for Cities and Climate Change” , which appeared in Nature in February.   Detailed daily coverage of the conference was provided by the International Institute for Sustainable Development  (IISD); the closing press release is here .

In advance of the IPCC Cities conference,  CDP released The World’s Renewable Energy Cities report , with new data that shows  that 102 cities around the world are now sourcing at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewables  (more than double the 40 cities from their list in 2015).  The 102 cities  include Auckland (New Zealand); Nairobi (Kenya); Oslo (Norway); Seattle (USA) and from Canada: Montreal, Prince George ( B.C.), Winnipeg, and  Vancouver.  The full report identifies data by type  of renewable energy: hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaics, biomass and geothermal.  Related, broader reports are: Renewable Energy in Cities: State of the Movement  (Jan. 2018), which offers a global overview of local policy developments and documents  from 2017, and Renewable Energy in Cities  (October 2016) by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

All of  these reports are more encouraging than another recent study in the news:  “Future heat waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities”, which appeared  in Environmental Research Letters in February 2018.   These are warnings we’ve read before, but this study offers unique detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario – Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga and Almeria in Spain. Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.

Some recent news about Canadian cities:

downtown CalgaryAs the IPCC Cities conference met in Edmonton, the nearby City of Calgary convened its own  Symposium  as part of the process to develop its Resilience Plan, to be presented to Council in Spring 2018.  The website provides overview information and links to documentation, including nine research briefs in a series, Building a Climate-Resilient City: Climate Change Adaptation in Calgary and Edmonton  from the Prairie Climate Resilience Centre, a project of the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCVancouver:  The Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver recently released two reports from a collaborative project called “Mapping Enabling Policies for Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Strategy”. The Policy Atlas is a brief, graphic guide ; The Dialogue Report summarizes the views and discussion of 19 participants at a workshop held on November 30, 2017 – and attempts to clarify the roles of the federal, provincial, and local governments around issues such as a zero emission vehicles, energy efficiency in housing, land use planning, and electricfication and distributed energy, among others.

Toronto largeToronto: In February, Toronto City Council approved $2.5 million for its Transform TO climate plan  – which is  a fraction of the $6.7 million in the budget recommended by city staff.  The Transform TO  goals include 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050 (based on 1990 baseline); the website provides documentation and updates.

Finally, the mainstream Globe and Mail newspaper promises a new series of articles focusing on Canadian cities and climate change.  The first installment: “Halifax’s battle of the rising sea: Will the city be ready for future floods and storms?” (March 5).

 

Transform TO will reduce Toronto’s emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 – Recommendations passed on July 4th

Toronto large

Old and new Toronto City Hall from Flickr

John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, wrote  an Opinion piece “How Toronto could lead the climate change charge in Canadian cities” , which appeared in the National Observer on June 15.  The focus of Cartwright’s article is the  Transform TO   plan currently being debated  in Toronto City Council after two years of public engagement, expert input and in-depth analysis . Cartwright is  member of the cross-sectoral Modelling Advisory Group that informed the Transform TO project.  The  target is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.  Given that half of the Toronto’s carbon emissions come from buildings, 41 per cent from transportation and 11 per cent from waste,  key Transform TO recommendations are:  100% of new buildings to be designed and built to be near zero GHG emissions by 2030; 100% of transportation options- including public transit and personal vehicles – to use low or zero-carbon energy sources, and active transportation to account  for 75% of trips under 5 km city-wide by 2050; and 95% of waste to be diverted by 2050  in all sectors – residential, institutional, commercial and industrial.

Details of the plan are presented in Staff Report #1, approved by City Council in December 2016, and Staff Report #2  , approved by the Environment and Parks committee in May, and slated for a Council vote in early July. Technical reports  are here .

UPDATE:  See this CBC report summarizing the Council vote on July 4th, where the recommendations were passed, but with financial concerns.

An overview is available in 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto Report 2: Highlights of the City of Toronto Staff Report .  Report #2  highlights that Transform TO will provide significant community  benefits, such as improved public health, lower operating costs for buildings, and local job creation and training opportunities for communities that have traditionally faced barriers to employment – with an estimate that the planned building retrofits alone would create 80,000 person years of employment.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are members of  C40 ,  a network whose goal is to act on climate change and reduce emissions.   In cooperation with Sustania and Realdania  , C40 compiled case studies from 100 cities (including Toronto and Vancouver) , meant to showcase innovative programs. Their most recent blog, “Mayors lead the global response to Trump’s pull out of the Paris Agreement” is a blunt rebuke to Trump and a determination to continue to work at local solutions.   Similarly, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre repeated  that the mayors of the world would honour the Paris Agreement, as he welcomed more than 140 mayors and 1,000 international and local delegates gathered to the annual Metropolis World Congress from  June 19 to 22.

C40 Summit of Mayors and cities’ climate leadership; Toronto receives its “Environmental Report Card”

The C40 Summit of Mayors held in Mexico City in early December occasioned a number of announcements and publications.  The city of Montreal has joined the growing C40 network, according to the Montreal  press release .  Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City announced that they will ban diesel cars from their centres by 2025, according to The Guardian.  A new report, Deadline 2020: How cities will get the job done   provides an analysis and a roadmap of what the 84 global C40 cities need to do to accomplish the goals of the Paris Agreement. It calls for emission reduction from an annual average of above 5 tCO2e per citizen today to around 2.9 tCO2e per citizen by 2030.  A companion report,  How U.S. Cities Will Get the Job Done highlights the nearly 2,400 individual climate actions taken by the 12 current U.S. members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group over the past decade.  Michael Bloomberg,  former New York City mayor and President of C40, said, “Mayors don’t look at climate change as an ideological issue. They look at it as an economic and public health issue…. Regardless of the decisions of the incoming administration, U.S. mayors will continue to deliver action and lead the way.”

Toronto’s former mayor David Miller was President of C40 in 2008 – but Toronto’s recent Environmental Progress  Report    from the volunteer  Toronto Environmental Alliance    finds that “While we have seen some progress issues like toxics and waste, City Hall is still far from fulfilling their responsibilities on climate change and transportation.” In reviewing the environment-related decisions made by Toronto City Council since the election in Fall 2014, the report  notes that  the current mayor committed to the Paris Agreement, and the Council has committed  to develop a new long-term climate action plan for May 2017 with  an 80% reduction target by 2050. Neither of these actions have any funds associated with them, and the TEA urges Council to “dramatically ramp up funding”.  Toronto’s climate and energy goals, and its current Action Plan, are available here.

Community Benefits Agreement for Light Rail Transit a model for good jobs through infrastructure development

A Community Benefits Agreement for the Eglinton Crosstown  Light Rail Transit project in Toronto is expected to create around 300 jobs for youth, women and minority workers from the low income areas the project traverses.   According to an article  in the Toronto Star, local people “will receive construction and trades training through education centres set up by local unions — who are guaranteeing job placements for those who complete their skills-building programs.”   A Framework Agreement  was first struck in 2014; at that point, the Toronto Community Benefits Network  had proposed that 15 % of employee hours on the Crosstown project should go to people with employment barriers, including women, aboriginal people, racialized workers, and new Canadians.   The new project Declaration ,  finalized on December 7, 2016,   has set the bar at 10% of employee hours, but is being hailed as a precedent-setting example of the community benefits model for large scale infrastructure projects in Canada.  For the first time in North America, this agreement includes professional, administration, and technical jobs as well as skilled construction trades.   The Toronto and York District Labour Council states it best in its press release :  “A Community Benefits Agreement is powerful tool to overcome the historical underrepresentation of minorities and women in the construction industry. Jobs in the construction trades are good, well-paying jobs with benefits and a focus on safety. They can also be green jobs. Most importantly, workers have the opportunity to help build up their communities with the sense of pride, ownership and responsibility that engenders.”

A June 2015 article in WCR describes the community benefits agreement concept, cites examples in Vancouver and Los Angeles, and highlights Ontario’s  Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015.  That Ontario legislation from June 2015 requires “Infrastructure planning and investment should promote community benefits …. to improve the well-being of a community affected by the project, such as local job creation and training opportunities”.