Community Benefits - NRU

Leah Wong
March 24, 2017
Novae Res Urbis

A wave of public investment to address climate change is anticipated over the next five years with the introduction of the province’s climate action plan. In response, several non-profits groups are working to identify opportunities to create climate change-related community benefits, such as job training for youth, to address social inequity issues in Toronto.

The Toronto Environmental Alliance, Social Planning Toronto and the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals are presently doing research, funded through a grant from the Atkinson Foundation, on the opportunities to leverage provincial climate change investments for general community benefit.

“There have been a number of large announcements made about public investments to address climate change, [including] the Ontario Climate Action Plan,” Toronto Environmental Alliance campaigner Dusha Sritharan told NRU. “We really wanted to look at opportunities for co-benefits through the actions the province is going to implement.”

Social Planning Toronto executive director Sean Meagher told NRU that there are vast opportunities to leverage additional benefits from the action plan. “It makes sense for public investments to try and achieve the broadest range of objectives possible and to not operate in isolation,” said Meagher. “This is one really good example of how work in one ministry can play a huge role in achieving the goals of other ministries.”

The research is currently in its first phase as the organizations undertake a jurisdictional scan to see what other municipalities have done to leverage community benefits from climate projects, according to Sritharan. Once the scan is completed, the researchers plan to tie potential benefits to specific actions in the provincial plan. 

“[Other jurisdictions] have been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have that climate focus, but also produce other co-benefits as well,” said Sritharan.

Non-profit solar installer GRID Alternatives, for example, has found ways to create community benefits from California’s cap and trade program by enabling low-income residents to apply for the installation of solar panels on their homes and participate
in a job training program. The strategy produced multiple benefits, such as the installation of solar panels reduced GHG emissions and energy bills for residents and a jobs program to train residents in an emerging industry.

Leveraging community benefits from infrastructure investments is not a new concept in Toronto. For example, the redevelopment of the Regent Park neighbourhood included an employment plan that aimed to hire local residents for 10 per cent of new jobs. While the plan initially targeted construction jobs, businesses such as Sobey’s and Royal Bank of Canada that leased space in the new buildings also participated in the program. 

“We’ve noticed that there is a gap in having [a community benefits] lens applied to climate specific actions.... [We know] the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan is going to receive major investments,” said Sritharan. “There are opportunities for co-benefits such as job creation or even quality of life improvements for residents living in the buildings [being retrofitted].”

The province highlights job creation, including protection and transitioning of existing jobs as well as new employment, as one of the anticipated outcomes of the climate plan. A commitment to leverage community benefits from climate investments, for example, could lead to new opportunities for those currently having trouble finding work to retrain as energy auditors or to work in retrofit-related construction.

Meagher adds that there are opportunities to increase youth employment, provide newcomers access to the labour market and reduce income inequality by providing staple jobs. 

“It doesn’t cost appreciably more to make sure that these jobs are distributed equitably, especially since many of them are new jobs that are being created in sectors for which you will have to train up a labour force,” said Meagher. 

However, he said equity-oriented outcomes will only be realized if they are identified as a priority in the design of projects. 

“It needs to be an intentional part of the process. There are many things that naturally fit into that, [for example] there have been projects in Winnipeg that have married together home energy retrofits with youth employment,” said Meagher. “But it doesn’t happen on its own.”

Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto Edition, Vol. 21 No. 12, Friday, March 24, 2017. Read PDF version of article.