Can we talk about climate change yet? – Ward 33 E-Blast May 11th

Can we talk about climate change yet?

Last Friday morning, I sped down the DVP at 7am in an all-fired hurry to get across town to Mimico for Police Board business at the Police College. As I drove the radio was announcing that rising waters might cause the shutdown of the highway by 3pm that afternoon. I looked through the pouring rain at the Don River beside me and could see it was nearing the guard rail. I was terrified at what the rest of the day might have in store for us.

Today the river is still at an extremely high level and Lake Ontario is rising. We learned this morning that it is still too dangerous further down the St Lawrence to consider releasing anymore Great Lakes waters down the Seaway as Quebec may see 40cm more rain this weekend. Premier’s of both Quebec and Ontario are visiting flood sites and we are told the water in these locations may take another three weeks to recede. As I heard this news, I suddenly flashed back to the Mayor Rob Ford era when a climate change naysayer, Norm Kelly, was the Mayor’s appointed chair of the Environment Committee.

In January 2013, faced with the climate change modelling that City Staff had prepared using data from all three orders of government and the nation’s leading scientists, Chair Kelly opined that milder weather would be wonderful for Torontonians and ‘good for the trees’. When the media asked Norm if he wasn’t concerned that storms more violent than the August 2005 rain that collapsed a chunk of Finch Ave. and flooded 4,800 basements, might one day be happening annually he provided nothing but skepticism. Thankfully, a majority of Council did take the climate modelling seriously and the work on TransformTO began.

Before I tell you what on earth TransformTO is, take a look at the graph below.

The Toronto office of Environment and Energy Efficiency and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund have been working with a number of key partners on a program of clear targets for GHG Emissions reductions in the City of Toronto by 2050. The resulting program called TransformTO is expansive, laying out plans of action for the next 30 years to attack the sources you see above. The report is available here but I don’t expect you’ll read the whole thing. Let’s just consider those emissions sources first.

Isn’t it surprising to learn that buildings are currently a greater source of harmful GHG emissions than transportation? This has a lot to do with when a city experienced its growth spurts. Toronto experienced the lion’s share of its growth and suburban sprawl between 1954 and 1984. During these years, energy efficiency simply was not a factor in building design. The 1000 cement slab high-rise residential buildings built in this era make up a significant portion of that 53% you see above. TransformTO calls for the City to incentivize the retrofit of 100% of these buildings over the next 30 years. Check out the list below for all of the actions we can take to get to this target.

Waste reduction is one you can start thinking about and working on but to reduce that 11% of emissions we will have to go far beyond just sorting our recyclables and food waste. We will learn to own fewer items that are seldom used but can be picked up at a lending library. In 2050, they will laugh at how many of us at the turn of the century owned family-sized homes but still rented a storage locker for things we almost never touch. Manufacturers and retailers will rethink packaging and product design to reduce waste. To keep those businesses in Toronto, we will need to be a centre of innovation in this new Circular Economy where nothing is wasted.

It isn’t necessary for you memorize the TransformTO plan right now. Part of the plan includes rolling out the education to residents as each action in the plan is ready to go. Modest funding allows for all of this preparation and communication. But I would ask you to consider the full name of the plan:

Climate Action for a Healthy, Equitable and Prosperous Toronto – The Pathway to a Low Carbon Future

If that isn’t the core work of any municipal government, it certainly should be. TransformTO should be the lense through which we view every policy, every purchase with public dollars, every budget. For weeks now, the Mayor has been hammering away at other levels of government to fund the repair of social housing. Is he planning to require that every major repair includes green retrofitting to get climate change bang for our buck? If the city was to begin those repairs with city dollars in 2018 and include the TransformTO green retrofitting, how long before both of the Provincial and Federal governments would join in funding in order for the Housing repair work to contribute to their own governments’ Climate Change commitments?

This morning we were asked to adopt budget targets for next year that allow the City to proceed with the Scarborough Subway work, to proceed with the Gardiner East Hybrid elevated highway, to proceed with TransformTO and all while maintaining the same dollar amount in every division or agency as last year. All departments are asked to absorb all inflation, cost of living wage increases and to find more things to cut.

This year, as in any year, I am happy to hunt for efficiencies and cuts to expenditures that we can all live with. But shouldn’t we take those savings and invest them in the most urgent needs of our city? Given that it would impact the way we spend for ‘Health, Equity and Prosperity’ in almost every area of municipal government, shouldn’t TransformTO be top of the investment list?