Toronto’s 2024 budget holds steady on climate and environment funding, but we can’t risk further delays

The first draft of Toronto’s 2024 Budget is out, which sets out spending for city services like libraries, parks, roads, bike lanes, shelters, sewers, and many other important parts of our daily lives. Keep reading to take a deep dive into what this draft of the budget means for Toronto's climate and environmental action.

TAKE ACTION: Tell your MP that Toronto needs federal climate funding

The good news is that despite a tough financial crisis, Toronto has kept up with consistent funding for environmental action. The proposed budget takes the right approach of bringing in desperately needed revenue from property taxes, which is essential to keep core programs and services running, and advance critical priorities such as affordable housing, public transit, and climate action. But newly released documents show a worrying trend: we’re losing ground every year on Council’s commitment to hit net zero by 2040. To get on track, the City needs more funding from all levels of government.

The good: What’s included in the budget?

1. Investing in public transit: Investing in TTC service improvements and a fare freeze will help to shift more Torontonians onto transit, and make life more affordable for the millions who rely on the TTC. When transit ridership goes up, carbon emissions, traffic, and air pollution go down, and that’s good news for people and the environment. 

2. Increasing staffing for important environmental programs: The City has plans for new programs which will lay the groundwork for deeper climate action in future years, including pivotal programs to cut emissions from existing buildings, currently Toronto’s biggest emitters. To get these started they need staff, and we’re happy to see this reflected in the budget. Any delays to this funding would be a big setback for Toronto’s plans to cut emissions from buildings.

3. Leading by example by decarbonizing City buildings: An example of this is Exhibition Place is set to receive funding in the capital budget to reduce emissions through the use of wastewater energy. This could be a leading example of how to decarbonize on a large scale, and we hope many more city buildings will follow suit.

4. Moving ahead on key waste strategies: These strategies include staff and funding to help businesses move away from single use items, moving forward on the circular economy strategy, and increasing capacity for more organics processing which would ramp up methane capture

5. Cycling infrastructure: The City is increasing investment in cycling infrastructure in its 10-year Capital budget, which will help move the Cycling Network Plan forward. This is good news, but we share Cycle Toronto’s questions about whether this budget increase is enough to meet the City's TransformTO target of moving 75% of all trips under 5km by active transportation by 2030. We’d also love to see Bike Share more integrated into the City’s plans for transit users, to add flexibility and give people more options for getting to and from transit stations. 

The bad: What’s missing?

1. City funding is still not enough to meet the City’s environmental goals, including Toronto’s climate goal of reaching Net Zero by 2040. Not only is meeting Net Zero by 2040 vital for our climate, investments in climate action now will save the City and its residents money in the long run.  

2. Newly released budget documents from the Environment and Climate Division are worrying: Even with the actions in the 2024 budget, the City is tracking towards a “Business as Planned” (BAP) scenario and not a Net Zero by 2040 scenario. The BAP scenario is far from ambitious, and falls embarrassingly short of the commitments Council has made to address the climate emergency and reaching net zero emissions by 2040. 

There’s also some strong hope coming from this same report, which says “Game changers do exist. A transformative example to decarbonize the buildings sector is the introduction of a Building Emission Performance Standards (“EPS”) by-law,” which would “address Toronto’s largest source of emissions by requiring broad-based and significant emission reduction action across all buildings in Toronto.” Funding to kickstart work on EPS is in the budget, so we may see the emissions curve bend if/when it's implemented. Staff also point out that this program would need to be implemented “alongside the provision of financial and other support from the City and other levels of government." 

3. Not enough federal funding help: City budgets alone are not enough to reach net zero by 2040: To match the scale of the climate crisis, governments must work together to invest exponentially more in our transit system, green buildings, renewable energy, & climate resilience. The federal government has access to far more powerful funding tools than the City, and the Ontario government must compensate for removing funding sources from municipalities in 2023. Toronto is the economic hub of Ontario and Canada’s biggest city. It's in all of our best interests to give Toronto a new funding deal that builds a more resilient, affordable, climate-safe Toronto. 

4. No funding yet to start building a Scarborough busway: This is critical to ensure ridership goes up, not down. Transit riders in Scarborough have been taking slow, crowded shuttle buses since the SRT went out of commission in August. The City plans to build a dedicated busway along the line’s route between the Kennedy and Scarborough Centre station. But the promised funding is missing from the 2024 budget. 

5. Capital funding for building retrofit programs is declining: Uptake on City loans to help retrofit buildings has plummeted due to sky-high interest rates. That means they haven’t spent a chunk of the capital budget previously allotted to these programs. However, this budget redirects some of this funding into decarbonizing the City’s own buildings, including Exhibition Place, which is a smart move. We suggest going farther with this approach and investing more capital funding into greening City-led affordable housing developments. 

6. Decrease in tree planting targets: as the cost of tree planting and maintenance contracts increases, the City appears to have dialed back its tree planting targets for 2024 and future years. This will slow progress on creating important shade and cooling capacity for the city as temperatures rise. 

What happens next?

This budget will change over the next six weeks based on what the Mayor and Councillors hear from the public. After the proposed budget goes through the Budget Committee, the Mayor will present a new version on February 1st, which gets voted on at City Council on February 14th. That means that this draft is not yet set in stone.

This ever-changing process is why it’s important to speak up to support the investments that need to remain in this budget, and name anything new you want to see added and prioritized. This year it will be critical for as many people as possible to support the City’s focus on preserving & funding critical City services through this budget, instead of cutting services like transit and shelters to keep property taxes artificially low.

You can learn more about how to speak up for environment and climate priorities at our upcoming Budget Training Session with partners TCAN and ClimateFast! Here are the details.

You can also find many more opportunities to speak up at the City’s upcoming telephone town halls and Budget meetings here, with the first Telephone Town Hall happening on Tuesday, Jan 16th. 

TEA will be working hard to keep you informed through this process, and make sure you have lots of opportunities to speak up for investing in our city. 

If you haven’t already, please send a letter to your local MP asking them to support federal funding for Toronto.