Today, the City of Toronto declared a climate emergency, joining hundreds of other governments around the world – including the Government of Canada – in recognizing the urgency of the climate crisis. This declaration comes on the heels of the largest climate action mobilization in Canada’s history, which brought over half a million Canadians out on the streets last week to demand accelerated climate action. The key question is, now that the severity of the crisis has been clearly acknowledged, what will be different?
Critically, Toronto’s declaration of a climate emergency does not stand alone, it is accompanied by a myriad of new climate commitments. Most importantly, Toronto has adopted a new long-term target of achieving net zero carbon emissions before 2050, replacing the previous target of an 80% reduction by 2050. Staff will report back in 2020 on the feasibility of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. The new target is in line with the global scientific consensus on the scale of emissions reductions required to prevent catastrophic warming. Achieving carbon neutrality will require the intensification of the climate actions in the current TransformTO climate strategy, but also the development of new actions which haven’t yet been identified. Because not all sources of carbon emissions can be completely eliminated, Toronto will require new actions to offset residual emissions. This will likely involve actively removing carbon from the atmosphere – for example through afforestation, or carbon capture technology.
The net zero target is suitably ambitious, but long-term targets can be easy to ignore. For that reason, the emergency declaration also asks staff to develop new interim targets for 2023 and 2027 which – if adopted – will complement the City’s existing 2030 target of 65% below 1990 emissions and the new net zero before 2050 goal. Interim targets would make it easier to understand whether the City is on track, and harder for decision-makers to defer action.
The emergency declaration contains numerous other elements, ranging from specific commitments to feasibility studies. Here are a few of the most notable:
- To accelerate implementation of TransformTO climate actions, including as part of the 2020 budget
- To explore new financing mechanisms to fund climate action
- To consider amending the City’s investment policy to exclude fossil fuel investments and actively invest in climate solutions
- To develop a ‘climate lens’ that would be applied to all major City of Toronto decisions
- To develop a plan to measure, monitor and reduce ‘consumption-based’ emissions (emissions which do not occur in Toronto but result from the products and materials consumed in Toronto)
- To meaningfully consult and cooperate with indigenous communities on climate action
- To develop a plan for collaborating with youth in developing and implementing climate action
TAF strongly supports Toronto, and other GTHA municipalities, in declaring climate emergencies and accelerating climate action. Let there be no mistake, declaring a climate emergency is not merely a symbolic act: it is a commitment to ambitious and accelerated climate action, starting now. We hope and expect that the City of Toronto will follow through with accelerated actions to address the climate crisis. From this day forward, climate needs to be considered – and prioritized – in all City decision making, from major infrastructure projects to minor bylaw updates. All City divisions, agencies, boards, commissions, and corporations must be mobilized to support climate action. Achieving carbon neutrality will require leaving no stone unturned, no building un-retrofitted, and no emission reduction opportunity ignored. TAF stands ready to continue to partner with the City of Toronto – and other GTHA municipalities – to eliminate carbon emissions while building a better tomorrow.