TEA speaks to the Parks and Environment Committee

On September 9th TEA’s Climate Change Campaigner, Dusha Sritharan, appeared before the City of Toronto Parks and Environment Committee to talk about the recent heat waves that have been affecting the city. She addressed the steps that need to be taken to ensure the safety of the city’s residents and green spaces in the face of a changing climate.

Here is what she had to say:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Dusha Sritharan and I work with the Toronto Environmental Alliance as the Climate Change Campaigner. TEA has over 50,000 supporters spread across every ward in the city.

At TEA, we are very aware that climate change isn’t just an environmental issue. It’s important for our health, equity and prosperity as a city.  

During the last heat wave, we polled our supporters and asked them what their greatest heat-related concern was. Hot temperatures affecting people’s health and well-being was their top concern, followed by the impacts drought may cause to local food systems and green infrastructure.

The Board of Health Report on the Health Benefits of a Low-Carbon Future comes at a perfect time as we’ve been experiencing record high temperatures.

This year, Toronto Public Health has declared 14 heat warnings and 8 extended heat warnings. The extreme heat and drought are a sure sign of the present impacts of climate change.

As this report highlights, the extreme heat directly impacts the health and well-being of Toronto residents.

My aunt is just one example of someone suffering through the heat. My aunt Shanthy is 67 years old and lives on her own in an apartment tower close to Markham and Eglinton. She has no air conditioning in her building, and has been keeping her windows open and her fan on for most of the summer.

As someone who lives with a heart condition, she is at greater risk from the extreme heat. My family and I are always worried about her safety during hot days, and make sure to check up on her. Her story is similar to that of many other Toronto residents.

More than 50% of Toronto residents live in high rises, and many of them lack air conditioning. This map prepared by the City in 2011 shows areas of high heat vulnerability in the city. Many of the areas in red tend to overlap with where older apartment buildings are. Map of high heat vulnerability in Toronto

The City has already taken some measures to help protect people during the heat. Toronto Public Health recently announced that cooling centres will be open more frequently. This committee has also helped public pools stay open late during hot days and ensure we protect our green spaces.

With extreme heat becoming more frequent with climate change, we will need to invest more in protecting vulnerable people in our communities. Currently, the City only operates 7 cooling centres, which means we need to be looking into more accessible cooling spaces throughout the city. The question is, how can we encourage landlords to have cool spaces available in their buildings?

Toronto Public Health has already set up a Technical Advisory Group on Extreme Heat in Multi-Unit Residential Buildings. This work is crucial and we look forward to seeing their recommendations on reducing the health risks for high-rise residents. We hope to see strategies emerge that will help cool buildings while using clean sources of energy or very little energy.

As the City is also developing its climate change plan through Transform TO, this work is timely.  The advisory group’s work can also help inform the actions put forward by TransformTO.

Getting to a low carbon future means engaging all Torontonians, not just the technical experts and climate change advocates. Thanks to a grant from Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), TEA has been working to figure out how best to get these new voices actively involved in climate change solutions.

As part of this work, TEA is organizing an event this October to bring together community leaders to share ideas on how to best engage diverse communities on climate change issues. This will help us develop a list of recommendations that will be shared with staff working on TransformTO. We hope to develop strategies and ideas to engage new voices in the City’s work. We look forward to sharing an update about this in the next few months.

Below is a poll taken from our website about the heat in the city this summer: