Toronto adopts net-zero emissions target for 2040 - National Observer

National Observer

Sebastian Leck

December 20th, 2021

Toronto has pushed up its net-zero target to 2040, but advocates for stronger climate policies say there’s still no concrete plan for how it will be achieved.

The strategy, adopted by city council on Dec. 15 with a 24-2 vote, moves Toronto’s goal for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from 2050 to 2040 and sets an interim goal of a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2025.

It also sets nine targets for 2030, including a 65 per cent reduction in community-wide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, 100 per cent of new buildings constructed at “near zero greenhouse gas emissions” and a requirement that 30 per cent of all registered vehicles are electric.

Toronto Coun. Mike Layton, who voted for the strategy, said that while the target was a “significant milestone in and of itself,” he would’ve liked something bolder and more concrete.

“It's a plan for a plan,” said Layton, who represents University-Rosedale. “It's a good plan for a plan. But given the sense of urgency we have right now, nationally and regionally, I was hoping for more.”

Layton, who formerly worked at Environmental Defence and teaches at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, has been pushing for stronger environmental policies for years. In 2019, he moved a motion for Toronto to look into the extra costs of climate change and explore whether the city could sue major oil companies for their role.

“I would have liked to see (council) immediately implementing some of the financial incentives and disincentives for action, things like the vehicle registration fee to bring down the cost of public transit,” he said. Layton had previously tried to bring back a vehicle registration fee that would provide more revenue for public transit.

He said the real work on how the city will meet the targets in the strategy is still to come.

“We need to get on track with this. We need to not only endorse it in principle but endorse it with resources, endorse it with whatever authorities we have in order for us to have done right by our term of council,” he said.

“I’ve got little kids at home. I’ve got to explain to them 20 years from now that I did all that I could.”

Toronto’s city council passed its first climate plan, TransformTO, in 2017 and updated the plan when the city declared a climate emergency in 2019. The 2019 update set a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Hitting the net-zero target for 2040 will require around $146 billion of investments from the City of Toronto, other levels of government, residents, businesses and financial institutions, according to Julia Meyer-MacLeod, principal with Sustainability Solutions Group.

Meyer-MacLeod worked with the city on financial and emissions modelling for the strategy. She said setting a target at 2040 instead of 2050 saves the Toronto community $135 million while also cutting down on emissions.

That’s because climate actions lower home energy bills and introduce technology like electric vehicles, which are more efficient, she said.

“This can really be seen as a future economy plan or a whole city plan, rather than just a climate plan,” she said. “It's about getting Toronto ready for the economy that we know is coming and mobilizing both the public and private sector to be ready for the future.”

The targets are achievable with today’s technology, she said. The total price — $146 billion — feels enormous, but it comes out to $2 billion per year, or $3,000 per person, she said.

“The real barrier is the inertia of society,” she said. “It’s not the new technology, it’s not the money.”

How the City of Toronto will fund the strategy is still unknown. Emmay Mah, the executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said the strategy marks a step up in Toronto’s climate ambition, but what will be most important is how it is resourced and executed.

“When it comes down to it, how are they going to use Toronto's powers to raise revenue to actually fund this plan?” she said. “The real test, I think, is going to be in the upcoming budget, which is launching in January, to see if these commitments are translating.”

Mah said she was happy to see new recognition in the plan about the importance of working with community organizations to reach residents, as well as a commitment to annual emissions reporting, a strong equity analysis and the introduction of a community-wide carbon emissions budget.

So far, however, Toronto hasn’t been tested by ambitious targets. The first challenge will be to achieve its 2025 target to reduce emissions by 45 per cent compared to 1990.

In the past, Mah said, city budgets have not been funded to the level that is needed to take significant climate action and staff programs linked to the climate strategy. Some delays can be attributed to the pandemic — some staff were pulled off climate work to focus on public health — but timelines are getting too tight for further delay, she said.

“We've really reached the point where the city can't kick the can further down the road,” she said.

This article was reposted from National Observer: This article first appeared in the National Observer, on Monday, Dec 20, 2021