Toronto's climate plan goals not reflected in 2023 budget - Toronto Star

Toronto Star

By Alyshah Hasham

The city declared a climate emergency in 2019 but environmental advocates say not enough is being done to get to net-zero emissions by 2040.

There is nothing in the proposed $16.1 billion Toronto budget to suggest we are in a climate emergency — and the goal of meeting the city’s climate plan goals by 2040 is a “fantasy,” say environmental advocates.

“People should be alarmed at this budget,” said Lyn Adamson, co-founder of advocacy group ClimateFast, noting greenhouse gas emission levels have plateaued since 2011. “Don’t pretend to the public that you’ve got something that’s going to work because it is not going to work.”

City Council has been saying all the right things, declaring a climate emergency in 2019 and last year passing a remarkably ambitious plan to get Toronto to net-zero emissions by 2040 — a vision that includes free transit, an electrical grid free from fossil fuels and infrastructure able to withstand extreme heat, wind and flooding.

But the cost of all of that is estimated to be around $150-billion (shared across governments and the private sector), making the amount allocated in the budget for all projects that would reduce emissions or improve climate resiliency about $2 billion in 2023 and $17.6 billion over the next ten years a relative drop in the bucket.

“We should be retrofitting an average of about 30,000 residential buildings a year at this point in the plan,” said Sarah Buchanan who is the campaigns director at Toronto Environmental Alliance, But, she said, according to the budget proposal there are only around 6,000 buildings being targeted for retrofitting in 2023, and it is unclear if that is both residential and commercial

Continuing the smoke-and-mirrors is how much of the long-term $17.6 billion is actually not yet funded. The TTC, for example, has said they have not secured funding for the nearly $3 billion they need over the next ten years to buy electric buses and equipment including charging systems.

Under questioning from Coun. Dianne Saxe during the budget committee presentations, staff acknowledged more needs to be done.

“I think we have a lot do ahead of us … and there will be need for a lot of investment from all levels,” said James Nowlan, executive director of the environment and climate division.

The budget is “completely disconnected” from the TransformTO plan, says Buchanan.

She lists the ten-cent TTC fare hike and service cuts that could drive away rather than bring in riders, the delaying of infrastructure repairs that could make the city more vulnerable to flooding, heat waves and other extreme weather events, cuts to the tree maintenance budget and no efforts to discourage driving.

And without investing more in affordable housing and shelter, the city will only become more dangerous for the most vulnerable residents, she said.

“It makes you feel like the system is really broken when it comes to a problem like climate change,” she said.

Around 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, according to the city.

But few privately-owned small commercial buildings retrofits are happening and there are no new incentives in this budget, city staff have said.

Only 14 applications have been made for grants of up to $500,000 for multi-unit residential and midtier commercial office sectors.

And while the city offers a popular Home Energy Loan Program which has received 1,200 applications since relaunching in July 2022, city staff have noted high interest rates and supply-chain issues are expected to limit participation.

High interest rates and increased construction costs also contributed to lower demand for retrofit loans for buildings, with about $20 million unspent in 2022.

“This really speaks to the need to rethink the approach of everything being a loan program,” Buchanan said, adding that the affordability crisis will only make the home loan program less accessible.

She also points out that the TransformTO plan expects the city to be diverting all organic waste from landfill, but it is unclear from this budget how the 25 per cent jump will happen.

There is, she says, a general lack of clarity about how exactly the city is meeting — or failing to meet — its targets, which she hopes will be addressed in the “carbon budget framework” expected from city staff in the spring.

“We need to know what we are funding that is raising greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “What is the $2 billion for the Gardiner Expressway going to do to our climate targets.”

She and other advocates would also like to see exactly how much the city needs from the province, the federal government and the private sector to properly fund the TransformTO plan that costs likely between $8 billion to $10 billion a year, and what efforts are being made to secure it — similar to the accounting of the COVID-19 funding shortfall.

Lee Adamson (who happens to be Lyn Adamson’s sister) and chair of the Green Neighbours Network says the city must also do more around education. There are so many city residents who want to do their part — just look at the uptake of pollinator garden grants — but the city needs to do more to tell residents about initiatives like the home loan grant, or electric vehicle charging network, she said.

“It’s just kind of business as usual,” said Adamson of the budget. “It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

This article was reposted from the Toronto Star This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on Monday January 23 2023