Toronto needs to take community benefits approach to climate change -

Op Ed by Dusha Sritharan (TEA staff)

MARCH 29, 2018 


Dusha Sritharan outlines framework to create more equitable city

Climate change is one of the biggest issues we face, with cities around the world grappling with how to slash emissions and build more resilient cities.

In Toronto, buildings and transportation are the two greatest sources of greenhouse gases, accounting for almost 90 per cent of our emissions. While reducing emissions from these sources is a big challenge, it is also an opportunity to create a more healthy and equitable city.

Since 2016, all three levels of government have pledged billions of dollars to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These investments will build new transit and cycling infrastructure, expand renewable energy projects and retrofit existing buildings.

All of these climate actions can directly benefit communities by creating new jobs, providing better housing conditions and improving public health. Applying a community benefits approach can help leverage these benefits and ensure they are reaching community members who need them most.

Community benefits agreements and frameworks allow communities to negotiate specific terms to ensure that residents benefit from local development.

In Toronto, the first major community benefits framework was negotiated for the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit. While transit expansions are a climate action that also improves air quality and transit access, the addition of the community benefits framework is helping to create local jobs, youth apprenticeships, and new opportunities for local businesses.

Why not use a similar community benefits approach for reducing sources of building emissions?

Toronto’s buildings account for the highest source of greenhouse gas emissions at nearly 50 per cent. Our city is also faced with an aging and deteriorating rental and social housing stock. As investments are made to tackle emissions in buildings, we need to prioritize where they take place and who benefits.

Through cap and trade revenues, the Province of Ontario has already earmarked over $300 million for retrofitting social housing in Toronto over the next few years. This initial investment is important for improving energy efficiency, housing conditions and overall quality of life for residents.

TransformTO — Toronto’s climate action plan — outlines a bold goal of retrofitting 100 per cent of buildings by 2050, but communities will need to have a say in how this is implemented.

As our governments invest in climate actions, we need to look for ways to concretely apply a community benefits approach, to look beyond the scope of just reducing emissions and improve social equity, reduce poverty and uplift communities to be stronger and more resilient.
Dusha Sritharan is a climate change campaigner with the Toronto Environmental Alliance.