Municipalities across the GTHA have declared climate emergencies, adopted targets, and published plans. But despite some successful policies and programs, carbon emissions have remained relatively flat for seven years. Overcoming inertia and taking on more transformational climate action will be hard, but it’s also an opportunity to deal with crippling inflation, our housing crisis, and pandemic recovery.
Mayoral and councillor candidates should be ready to follow the carbon and collaborate on the most cross-cutting and scalable solutions.
You are here (on the path to net zero)
Action during this four-year term offers the best opportunity to address systemic challenges, stay competitive, and avoid expensive damage control later. Candidates should get to know their local and regional emissions profiles and climate plans – information that is just as relevant as demographics and how to service an evolving population, attract revenue and employment, and the social and cultural context to ensure a vibrant and equitable city. It’s how local decision-makers will be able to champion and advance the highest impact, most strategic cross-cutting solutions.
That means funding and implementing existing plans and strategies (think EV charging, transit, new and existing building standards), scaling them quickly, and adopting successful practices from leading jurisdictions (think congestion charges in London and Stockholm, existing building regs in NYC, and bicycle infrastructure from Paris).
Late climate action exacerbates inequities and worsens economic competitiveness
Pathways to Net Zero (2021 GTHA carbon emissions inventory sneak peek – coming this Fall)
The graph above shows that ‘late climate action’ requires reducing more emissions overall, requiring more expensive and radical action for the next generation, and will deepen inequities. To get on track to net zero by 2050, the region should be achieving reductions of at least 7% a year, year after year — an ambitious but achievable goal that carries broader societal benefits.
Climate action and affordability should go hand in hand
Candidates are tapped into the pulse of the region if they recognize the tremendous potential of merging climate and economic objectives. Dramatically and equitably ramping up energy efficiency is just one of the ways governments can help residents cope with the crunch of inflation.
Most councils in the region have already approved green standards for new construction, which is great progress toward reducing future emissions from the building sector. If enforced and updated appropriately in the coming years, these standards will ensure healthier and more affordable homes for decades. Smart, connected new development is a once in a generation opportunity to address both the housing and climate crises.
More than 30 Ontario municipalities have also made waves over the past two years by passing resolutions calling on the province to phase out natural gas. The electricity system is a linchpin to the region’s net zero targets, so cities need to use their influence to advocate in a unified voice, and to hold the province accountable for its electricity planning decisions. As the cost of renewable energy and storage plummets and the cost of fossil fuels increases, this should be done in defense of affordable energy bills as much as for the climate, not to mention the benefits of a more distributed, reliable and fair system.
Demonstrate you can roll up your sleeves and work together
To handle the complex and intersectional issues that face our region, municipalities need to follow the carbon and collaborate. The most successful local leaders will demonstrate that they are willing and able to engage businesses, community groups, other levels of government, and public leaders in advancing integrated solutions to the social, economic, and climate challenges we face.
Every municipal election is important for climate, as many of the highest impact actions happen locally, and momentum is growing for change. The timing for hopeful new leaders carries great possibility. After working for decades in climate, I haven’t lost my optimism — I’m confident you’re up to the task.
What we’re learning from others: