Just a year ago, the Toronto Board of Health approved a report that promoted an active role for Toronto Public Health in responding to climate change. Part of this mandate included developing an understanding of how measures Toronto might take to reduce its carbon footprint might support – or conflict – with improvements to public health for Toronto residents.

Next week, TPH presents a new report to the Board of Health responding to this call for information. The Health Benefits of a Low-Carbon Future review paints a synergistic picture about how some high-impact urban climate actions can support and enhance the health of our local populations. This information will directly inform the TransformTO modelling action now underway, which examines how actions designed to help Toronto reach its 2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction target will affect other key city priorities.

The Toronto Public Health report zones in on transportation related emissions which are a major local source of air pollution. The report pays particular attention to retiring older, heavy duty diesel trucks, which, though much fewer in number than other types of vehicles, are responsible for a significant pollution burden. The development of active and public transportation options are also a focus, because they help to support regular physical activity among a population that spends more time than we should engaged in sedentary activity. Excellence in active transportation design may also help safeguard against accident or injury as well.

Energy retrofits of older apartment buildings also create healthier indoor environments with comfortable temperatures, less mold and moisture issues, and adequate fresh air ventilation.

Meanwhile, the design of our city spaces also has a key role to play in local health. Development of complete streets and compact, mixed-use neighbourhoods reduces reliance on single-occupancy vehicles while creating walkable neighbourhoods with better access to services, enhanced green space that supports mental health and lowers the impacts of hot summers, and more opportunities to develop healthy social networks. The report also points out the relationship between sustainable and low-carbon approaches to food production and access to healthy foods. On the waste management front, reducing GHG-producing food waste streams can also be designed to support improved local diet and improved accessibility of healthy food to all citizens.

In short, the report notes that areas of best synergy are those where GHG reduction strategies lead to:

  • Increases in physical activity
  • Reduction of air pollution
  • Injury prevention, and/or
  • Healthy diet

Our hats are off to Toronto Public Health for taking leadership in demonstrating how we can merge public policy in the areas of climate and health to resolve issues unique to each area. As we move forward with our TransformTO initiative, we look forward to discovering more synergies like this, and considering with our city colleagues how we can create more strategies that transcend traditional spheres of interest, supporting multiple urban benefits.