Toronto 'needs to work on follow-through' to meet net zero target: analysis - ETOBICOKE GUARDIAN

By Tamara Shephard

The City of Toronto recently detailed some initiatives of its accelerated plan to reach net zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

City officials call it an “ambitious” plan, “one of the most-ambitious net zero targets in North America.”

Low-interest homeowner loans to improve home energy efficiency, expanding and improving Toronto’s cycling network, a Wet Weather Flow Master Plan to protect the environment and water quality, promoting and enabling waste reduction, and planting and maintaining trees to increase Toronto’s canopy to 40 per cent by 2050 are among city initiatives.

But is Toronto moving fast enough, particularly in the suburbs of Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York, to prepare for a difficult climate future?

Sarah Buchanan, campaigns director with the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said the city “needs to work on follow-through,” and vote for funding elements of the plan, particularly on transit.

“What we’re seeing happen is we have a plan that calls for transit to expand, to eventually become free, to become much better particularly in suburban areas where people really need more access to more-reliable, faster, cheaper transit, but what’s happening in terms of implementation is transit is getting worse. It’s actually moving backwards instead of forwards.”

Recently, Toronto council voted to reduce TTC service to 40 of its transit routes.

Krissan Veerasingam, one of five co-founders of Scarborough Environmental Association, said he believes fighting the climate crisis is an equity issue, particularly in culturally and socio-economically diverse Scarborough.

He urged funding transit expansion over Toronto Parking Authority’s addition by year’s end of 650 new electric vehicle stations.

“Government subsidizing of electric vehicles is good in the sense you’re getting more EVs out there, but in essence, you’re subsidizing wealthy people who can afford to buy a brand new, luxury car,” he said. “I think you’d see much more return climate change-wise if you took all that money and invested it in transit infrastructure.”

Veerasingam acknowledged Toronto for its ravine trail expansion in Scarborough and council for its consideration of multiplex housing.

Since 2020, Seneca College has benefitted from approximately $225,000 through the city’s Greening Partnership Grant to help it plant more than 200 trees and more than 1,800 shrubs at its Newnham and Seneca@York campuses.

Last year, funding helped renovate the Seneca@York courtyard with an outdoor event space, new lighting and a rain garden.

“Revitalizing our green spaces helps increase biodiversity, reduces our carbon footprint, creates hands-on learning opportunities for our students and contributes to the overall health of the entire community,” Seneca College spokesperson Ryan Flanagan said in an email.

Brian MacLean, a core member of Etobicoke Climate Action, said the group is pleased the city is developing a “carbon budget” as a “lens” through which to measure and determine city actions.

He too stressed city plans are “still not fully funded.”

“I think most Torontonians think that climate change is a distant threat that is happening in Toronto at a rate we hardly notice,” MacLean said in an email, urging the city to increase awareness of climate change and its carbon budget in water and property tax bills and councillor newsletters.

“We’ve set proper goals but have not developed all the tools and expenditures to reach those goals.”

Toronto’s largest sources of GHG emissions: fossil fuels to heat and cool buildings and heat water (58 per cent), transportation (33 per cent) and waste, primarily landfills (nine per cent).

Etobicoke Centre Councillor Stephen Holyday said beating the climate crisis relies on Torontonians taking action in their own lives.

“It starts at home,” Holyday said. “The government has all these programs and structures and plans, but it comes down to us. You have to think about being more resilient to deal with changes around you, but also to change your habits,” urging people to think about their vehicles and home heating.

“If we dealt with those as a society, we would be much better off.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After the city issued a news release marking the start of Earth Month and detailing some of the initiatives of its Transform TO Net Zero Climate Strategy, reporter Tamara Shephard wanted to explore if the city is doing enough to reach net zero by 2040.

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This article first appeared on April 19, 2023