Building retrofit initiative key part of Toronto’s climate change emergency action proposals

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Green demo
Queens Park climate change demonstration on Friday, part of an international protest inspired by the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Photo by Adam Sommerfeld, Green Party's Ontario Critic for Francophone Affairs and of the GPO Riding Association for Toronto Centre.

By Robin MacLennan
Ontario Construction News staff writer

Toronto’s mayor is prepared to declare a climate emergency, joining 800 other governments in 16 countries that have already done so, he announced last Friday.
The declaration will be debated by city council Oct. 2.

“Climate change and global warming pose a major risk to our city’s residents and businesses,” Mayor John Tory said. “That’s why we are taking action through plans like TransformTO and adaptation strategies such as Toronto’s Resilience Strategy.”

The city is already working on environmental initiatives, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, undertaking building retrofits and buying electric buses, Tory added.

He made the statement coincides as millions of youth and their supporters launching Global Days of Action and climate strikes to pressure politicians to take swift action on climate change.

Forty-seven community organizations sent an open call to Toronto City Council to declare a climate emergency and commit to accelerated action on climate change.

“We, concerned organizations, call on Toronto Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council to formally declare a climate emergency,” the coalition wrote in its call to action. “Furthermore, we call on you to commit to, and rapidly implement, clear and specific actions to reduce emissions in the near-term and protect residents—especially those most at risk—from climate-related harms while making critical investments to maximize the health, environmental, social, and economic benefits of a transition to a zero-carbon city.”

The organizations are calling on the city to commit to 20 specific actions to reduce greenhouse emissions and to bring social and economic benefits to communities, including:

  • Recognize the climate emergency
  • Strengthen climate targets and reporting
  • Adequately fund climate action
  • Build equity and inclusion in climate action
  • Ensure a just economic transition
  • Establish structures for meaningful resident participation

“We are looking for hard evidence that our mayor and city councillors are committed to making real progress during this Council term,” says Emmay Mah, executive director of Toronto Environmental Alliance.

“It’s unacceptable that climate change has become an intergenerational burden. People of all ages, including children and youth, are demanding urgent and meaningful climate action here in Toronto.”

Mah said the climate emergency announcement is positive.

“However, concerns have been raised by civil society advocates that climate emergency declarations without clear commitments to hard targets and near-term actions can serve as a mask for ‘climate delaying’.”

`“It’s unacceptable that climate change has become an intergenerational burden. People of all ages, including children and youth, are demanding urgent and meaningful climate action here in Toronto.”

The groups are calling on the city to commit to 20 specific actions to reduce greenhouse emissions and to bring social and economic benefits to communities including:

  • Set interim targets and annual reporting to put the city on track to meet its 2030 emission reduction goals
  • Achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2040 or earlier
  • Establish fair revenue tools to adequately fund climate action
  • Apply a climate lens to the city’s budget and other decision
  •  Apply an equity lens to designing and delivering climate actions
  • Launch a full-scale building retrofit strategy
  • Expand the number of dedicated bus lanes and transit priority zones
  • Start divesting from high-carbon city investments

“The good news is that just about everything that Toronto needs to do will improve our quality of life,” Mah said. For example, properly insulating buildings will make them more energy efficient and safe from extreme weather and create jobs for people in the skilled trades.

“If developed in a thoughtful and well-coordinated way, green workforce strategies can be inclusive and reduce poverty.”

The call to action emphasizes that the city has “a lot of work to do” to strengthen the voice of Indigenous people, youth, workers and equity-seeking groups in climate-related decision-making. Toronto has explicitly committed to upholding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to applying an equity lens to its decision-making processes, and the city has an obligation to abide by these principles in the transition to a zero-carbon society.

“When Mayor Tory and councillors head to C40 in Copenhagen in October, we expect them to accurately represent what they have committed to do.” Mah said. “If city council passes a climate emergency declaration that includes civil society’s expert recommendations for action, then the delegation will have a chance to demonstrate to the world that Toronto is prepared to be a climate leader.”

Some steps being suggested by the groups include launching a full-scale and funded building retrofit strategy, expanding the number of dedicated bus lanes and transit priority zones in the city, and divesting from city investments that have a high carbon footprint.

“This emergency declaration serves to join cities across the world in tackling climate change, frame the impact of climate change on our residents and businesses, and enhance Toronto’s commitment to a net zero carbon future,” Tory concluded.

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