About Climate Change

Spiral graph showing global temperature change

Increased levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere are heating up the planet and causing climate change. Human activity is drastically increasing GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere, de-stabilizing global weather patterns. Ancient glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising. We are experiencing more frequent and more severe storms, fires, droughts and floods that are altering entire ecosystems and damaging people’s homes and livelihoods around the world. Human activities that accelerate the rise in GHGs include burning fossil fuels to produce electricity, heating our buildings, and powering our cars, along with deforestation and intensive agriculture.

Climate scientists agree that averting dangerous climate change will require keeping average global temperature rise under 2° C. More and more jurisdictions around the world, especially since the Paris COP21 summit in 2015, are heeding scientists’ warnings and committing to cutting carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050, the widely accepted target that could keep us below a 2° C increase. In line with this science, the City of Toronto has committed to reducing carbon emissions city-wide by 2050. We call this the “80 x 50” target.

Urban action on climate

    We can deploy a number of key strategies to address climate change and cut emissions:

Retrofit buildings to improve energy efficiency.

Many buildings in Toronto use far more energy than is necessary due to aging or inefficient equipment, poor operation and upkeep, or poor building design. A concerted effort to reduce the amount of energy wasted in Toronto’s building stock is the cheapest and fastest way to reduce GHGs. Doing so also creates energy cost savings for building owners and residents. Conserving energy in this sector has enormous potential, so much so that it could reduce or delay the need for expensive new infrastructure such as electricity generation plants and pipeline extensions.

Build new transportation infrastructure.

We need more co-ordinated, accessible, and affordable transportation options so that fewer people will need to drive to work, school and shopping. Bus lines, subways, light rapid transit (LRT), and GO train service should be rolled out in a co-ordinated way across the region, so we can seamlessly get to all the places we need to go. We also need to build more pedestrian and cycling infrastructure like wide sidewalks, segregated bike lanes, and safe intersection designs based on the principle of Complete Streets.

Support new modes of transport including low-emission vehicles.

Once new options are in place, financial incentives, public awareness campaigns, and supportive policies will need to be developed to encourage new transportation behaviours such as car-pooling, switching from car to public transit, cycling and walking, or working from home. We may even need to encourage people to reconsider their lifestyle choices with respect to housing, and to choose to live in more compact neighbourhoods closer to schools, offices and amenities. We also need to support the use of low emission vehicles by, for example, building electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to reduce local emissions caused by conventional cars.

Engage the community.

We can harness the power of the community to develop new ideas to combat climate change. We need to leverage all the intelligence, passion and ingenuity our community has to offer to respond to the challenge of global warming and deliver solutions that have multiple benefits including improvements to our health, job creation and business opportunities, and improved quality of life as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Reduce waste to a minimum.

Recycling and green waste collection should be ramped up to ensure that our waste is handled in a way that minimizes methane emissions and/or creates new resources, such as high-quality soil conditioner. In particular, we must focus on reducing waste in the commercial and industrial sectors.

Take advantage of local renewable energy sources.

With coal no longer in use for electricity generation in Ontario, the amount of carbon emissions associated with electricity is much lower than it used to be. However, we still have to minimize electricity use in order to reduce emissions from natural gas-fired generation plants, and, eventually, to create room in our electricity system to support new uses, such as electric cars. We can contribute to this effort by using large urban roof spaces for photovoltaic energy installations. We can also consider replacing natural gas water and space heating by using heat pump technology that draws heating and cooling from underground or from the air outside the building.