The May City Council meeting was jam packed with climate and environmental items. Here’s a rundown on what happened.
TOWARDS NET ZERO
This meeting was a milestone for Toronto’s Net Zero plan. Council was presented with the very first Annual Report on the city’s Net Zero by 2040 plan. It’s the first annual report since City Council approved the more ambitious Net Zero Strategy in 2021, which aims for net zero by 2040 instead of 2050.
This report was an important step for climate accountability and transparency, TEA had three key recommendations on how the report could be improved next year. You can read our comments here.
City Council also approved a new Carbon Accountability and Carbon Budget framework. This framework has been years in the making, and is something TEA and allies have long advocated for. It sets absolute emissions limits for the city’s 2025 and 2030 emissions reductions goals, codifies them into the city’s legal and policy systems, and helps integrate climate-based decision-making throughout the city bureaucracy, including its finance systems. We’ll be watching for positive changes in next year’s city budget sparked by this new process - and we’ll also be keeping an eye on how carbon offsets impact the city’s 2040 net zero target. You can find TEA”s comments on this item here.
FOSSIL-FREE ENERGY AND BUILDINGS
Buildings represent 60% of all the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This is almost entirely from fossil (or ‘natural’) gas. In fact, 54% of the city’s total carbon footprint comes from fossil gas. To meet the city’s net zero goals, the city’s electricity supply and our buildings must be weaned off fossil gas over the next 17 years.
City Council passed motions that should help the city meet this goal. The first was a Memorandum of Understanding with Toronto Hydro. Moved by Councillor Gord Perks, the MOU links Toronto Hydro’s activities with the City’s TransformTO Net Zero goals.
The second important motion came from Councillor Paula Fletcher, asking for the City to oppose any new power generation that uses fossil fuels. It passed with a majority of Council - although it looks like the province is moving ahead to expand the plant anyway, despite promises that municipalities would have a say. Read our written submission on this here.
Councillor Dianne Saxe’s motion to discourage installation of new natural gas hookups through future versions of the Toronto Green Standard ultimately passed, but only after Councillor Stephen Holyday moved unsuccessfully to weaken it. That proposed amendment failed on a vote of 9-16. This vote is an interesting display of Councillors’ willingness to shift away from fossil fuels. Note that a yes vote (below) means yes to continuing to burn gas - thanks to Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) for the graphic!
Finally, one of the biggest sources of emissions from buildings is one that’s not currently measured: the embodied emissions from the manufacture and construction of buildings and building materials. TEA submitted comments supporting the accounting of embodied greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in the Toronto Green Standard Update, which passed.
Toronto’s Net Zero Strategy calls for transit to be reliable, efficient, and free by 2040 with the majority of short trips done by walking, cycling, or transit. City Council considered several items on sustainable transport which will impact the plan’s progress.
City Council passed Councillor Alejandra Bravo’s motion that called on City Staff to make non-payment of fees between TTC riders and drivers parking their cars more equitable. Currently, TTC riders who forget their Presto Card face fines of up to $425 while fines for non-payment of parking or on GO Transit are much lower (e.g. $30 for an expired parking meter). TEA submitted a letter to Council on this item that you can read at this link.
City Council rejected a motion by Councillor Josh Matlow to have city staff update the cost of the proposed rebuild of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, as no construction is scheduled until 2026. We strongly suspect that political alignments around the upcoming mayoral by-election had an impact on the results of this vote.
With the Scarborough RT (Line 3) scheduled to close this year, residents of Scarborough are in need of rapid transit options. City Council authorized the the TTC to begin design of a dedicated rapid transit busway in Scarborough. While this motion doesn’t include the cost of construction, it’s a step that should have been completed years ago.
Council also directed city staff to reach out to the province and report back to Council on multiple aspects of the Ontario Line, including construction disruptions and the building of social housing on station entrances. The province’s subway line will be one of the biggest transit projects in the city and is already having a significant impact on the day-to-day life of Torontonians.
City staff also presented council with a plan to reduce the emissions from the city’s vehicle fleet. This is one of the first comprehensive strategies to reduce the city’s own corporate emissions based on the TransformTO emissions reductions timetable, and involves vehicle fleets for the TTC, Toronto Police Services, Toronto Community Housing, Exhibition Place, Toronto Zoo, Toronto Parking Authority, and the Toronto Public Library.
As the climate warms, more extreme weather events, including more heat days and more polar vortices, will impact the health and well-being of Torontonians – particularly given the housing crisis that the city is currently facing.
City Council has now officially declared a homelessness emergency, and has called for multiple actions, including the request for more funding from other levels of government, and a long-term strategy for Warming Centres and respite sites.
With Toronto’s climate goals becoming more embedded into the city’s decision-making structures, we may be moving into a new normal – an era where climate and environmental issues become far more prominent during City Council meetings.
TEA and our many allies will be here to make sure that the City of Toronto follows through with all the steps needed to reach net zero by 2040. Thank you for your continued support. We couldn’t do this without you!