Climate action in the 2019 City Budget

TEA’s Executive Director Emmay Mah spoke to the Budget Committee about TransformTO and the need to deepen our investment in climate action with co-benefits. This is what she said.


My name is Emmay Mah. I recently joined the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) as Executive Director.

As you may know, TEA has tens of thousands of supporters across Toronto who want to build a greener city for all. We closely monitor environmental decision-making at Toronto City Hall and participate in the budget process every year.

Today, I’m going to speak about TransformTO, Toronto’s climate action plan. I participated in the City’s Modelling Advisory Group that contributed to the development of TransformTO.

Those of us who have been involved in this strategy are committed not only to its emissions reductions goals, but also to its focus on social equity, health and prosperity. It is designed to leverage and contribute to other important City initiatives for poverty reduction, tower renewal and transportation, and proposes actions that will bring tangible benefits to people’s lives.

Now is the time to realize the Plan. Residents need to see that the City can turn plans into meaningful action. As such, I propose the following recommendations to this committee:

1. Commit to funding the TransformTO budget proposed by City staff.

The current request of $1.458 million ($1.314 M net) represents the bare minimum needed to move this strategy forward. Based on the City’s own plans, TransformTO should have a budget of $7.8 M by 2019, and the current request only brings us up to $5.4 million. The strategy is one-third under-funded.

So far, Toronto has hit its greenhouse gas reduction targets, but that’s because we have picked all the low-hanging fruit. We cannot continue to coast on the closure of the coal-fired plants.

To hit the Council-endorsed target of 65% emissions reduction by 2030, we need to move forward to deeper action and that’s going to require much deeper investment than what’s in front of you today. We need to turn our attention to retrofitting all of our old buildings and getting our city off fossil fuels through electrification and renewable energy. This requires major capital investments from public and private funding sources.

2. Prioritize building retrofits and jobs for those who need it most.

The TransformTO acceleration campaign “Workforce Development for High-Performance Buildings” provides a huge opportunity to invest in a triple win: deep emissions reduction, healthier, affordable and weather-resilient housing conditions, and job creation.

Half of Toronto’s emissions come from buildings and the City has committed to retrofitting 100% of existing buildings by 2050 and all new buildings by 2030. This is an opportunity to create a highly skilled workforce that includes equity-seeking groups facing employment barriers. There are organizations and businesses that are well positioned to help deliver this work, but the City needs to get the workforce strategy off the ground.

Additionally, the commitment to retrofitting Toronto Community Housing must urgently move forward to create healthy, dignified living conditions for residents. Our schools and shelters must also be given top priority. Retrofit funding for all of these buildings has been cut by the Provincial government this year.

3. Prepare for deeper investments in the TransformTO climate action plan.

As highlighted in my last point, strategic investments in climate action can generate social and economic benefits. However, it does require that City Council raise the funds to make these investments. Council must take decisive action to address the City’s revenue problem.

Our city is in a “state of poor repair” with both our physical and social infrastructure are at their breaking point. We cannot kick this can further down the road without facing dire consequences.

If the City of Toronto is not raising adequate funds from traditional revenue tools for climate and other critical social investments, it must explore new, innovative approaches. For example, Portland, Oregon has instituted a “Clean Energy Community Benefits Initiative” – a big business surcharge to pay for clean energy projects and job training. We request that Council direct staff to explore innovative revenue-generating options for climate investments.

Lastly, the City cannot do this alone. We are all in this together and need to engage residents from every corner of the City in actions to both prevent dangerous climate change and build community resilience. Resourcing community engagement is central to achieving results and should be visible in the 2019 budget.

It’s hard to imagine, but by the end of this Council term, we will be one-third of the way to 2030. We need your leadership to bring to life the low-carbon and equitable city that our communities have envisioned.

Thank you for your time and attention. I welcome any questions you may have.

This deputation was delivered by TEA’s Executive Director Emmay Mah on February 7, 2019 at the Scarborough Budget Committee meeting.