Now rapid acceleration of climate action and investment is needed
Responding to the global climate emergency, the City of Toronto is proposing a bold new climate target: net zero by 2040. If approved by City Council in December, this will be among the strongest climate targets set by any level of government in Canada. We applaud the City of Toronto for setting an ambitious, science-based target consistent with global commitments to limit climate change to 1.5C.
The new target is accompanied by a strategy to accelerate climate action. This is critical, because “the City’s data shows that emissions have plateaued, indicating that acting incrementally will not be enough to put us on the net zero trajectory.” These words come from Toronto’s proposed TransformTO Net Zero Strategy posted last week; the plan and target will go before the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on December 2, and City Council December 15th.
A rapid and immediate acceleration in climate action is needed to get on track for net zero by 2040. The City’s technical modelling shows that fossil fuels, primarily natural gas used in homes and buildings and gasoline used in cars, need to be completely phased out by 2040. To put that in perspective, that requires deep retrofits to every home in Toronto in the next 18 years – an average of 65,000 housing units retrofitted each and every year if we start immediately. That’s about a six-fold increase in the number of retrofits occurring today, while ensuring every retrofit is to near-zero emissions.
Toronto has a solid foundation to build on. Leading-edge initiatives such as the Toronto Green Standard and the Home Energy Loan Program were first of a kind in Ontario, and have been adapted by other cities across Canada. But Toronto cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Below we outline some of the key components of the proposed strategy, and our take on how it needs to be strengthened to achieve net zero by 2040.
The new climate strategy proposes to continue implementing the Toronto Green Standard update schedule set in 2017, and the Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy adopted earlier this year. This is a good place to start, but these action plans were designed to meet Toronto’s old climate targets. Meeting the new target will require accelerating them, specifically we recommend:
- Accelerate the schedule for updating the Toronto Green Standard (TGS). The near zero design standard needs to be in place by 2028 to ensure near zero new construction by 2030.
- Accelerate development of building emissions performance standards for large buildings. These standards need to take effect in 2025 to preserve a path to the 2030 target. Realistically, this requires developing performance targets and policy details in 2022, in order to provide the buildings sector with two years notice to plan for compliance.
The proposed strategy sets aggressive targets for renewable energy, calling for 50% of total energy use to be renewable/low carbon by 2030. To get there, the City will assemble a taskforce of industry experts to develop a plan for how to accelerate renewable energy by 2023. A comprehensive plan is needed, but we need shorter-term action to get on track. We recommend:
- The City and Toronto Hydro should partner to develop and pilot a turnkey, no-up-front cost program for solar PV and storage systems, leveraging bulk procurement and city financing programs. This can be implemented quickly, offsets emissions from natural gas plants, and creates good, green jobs.
The proposed strategy targets 30% of vehicles on the road being fully electric by 2030. To get there, the City will require 100% parking spaces in new residential development to be EV-ready, work across divisions to accelerate charging infrastructure in other areas, and report back in 2023 with options for incentivizing EV adoption and/or disincentivizing fossil fuel vehicles. The only missing piece is an expansion of on-street charging, specifically:
- The City should build on the success of the on-street vehicle charging pilot by expanding on-street charging beginning in 2022, working in partnership with Toronto Hydro.
The City is proposing a standing stakeholder advisory group to guide implementation of the net zero strategy, which is critical. However, there is no new funding identified to support implementation in 2022. We offer the following advice on implementation:
- Ensure the new climate plan is fully resourced through additional funding beginning in 2022
- Ensure the Climate Advisory Group includes representation from Indigenous, youth and other equity-deserving communities, and is empowered and resourced to provide independent advice and accountability.
- Ensure meaningful involvement of residents in the design, development, and evaluation of actions, including the recommendations provided by Toronto Environmental Alliance to support community hubs and other local support networks as key social and physical infrastructure for strengthening community climate engagement and resilience.
Read TAF’s official submission and complete list of recommendations here.
Toronto is making good progress, achieving the 2020 target to reduce emissions by 30% based on 1990 levels. The next phase of work as outlined in this strategy will require even more effort and resources. TAF urges committee members, Toronto Councillors, the Mayor, and City staff to ensure this plan includes tangible and fully funded actions to reach the net zero target. We look forward to collaborating with the City on implementation.
Cameron McCuaig says
Attached is the City of Mississauga link to climate change progress report tabled to General Committee. If not planned, I recommend you comment on the sixth largest city as a follow-up to your comments on Toronto. I personally find the status unacceptable and have attempted to constructively work with the city to have a stronger action plan to no avail. Perhaps my assessment is too critical. Your views would be helpful.
Julie Leach says
Thanks for your comment Cameron. The Atmospheric Fund did provide support and advice to the City of Mississauga for the development of their climate action plan, and spoke at City Council when the plan was adopted to emphasize the importance of following through on implementation. While we didn’t have a chance to comment publicly on this progress report, we have been meeting with staff at the City of Mississauga to discuss how we can help in accelerating implementation. We look forward to increasing engagement with Mississauga next year, including providing recommendations to Mississauga City Council.
Tim Short says
This is encouraging news. It’s clear that the City is taking our changing climate very seriously. As Canada’s largest urban centre, it is incumbent upon Toronto to take the lead and show the way for the rest of country.
We need every resident, business and institution to do what they can and as soon and as hard as they can. Climate change is not a spectator sport!
Allan Baker says
I am very concerned about the statement that:
“The City is proposing a standing stakeholder advisory group to guide implementation of the net zero strategy, which is critical. However, there is no new funding identified to support implementation in 2022.”
An ambitious plan, but no additional funding?
Julie Leach says
Thank you Allan. The new 2040 target is indeed ambitious, and will require an ambitious plan. We have made a recommendation in our letter to increase funding for TransformTO starting in 2022.
Marta Griffiths says
Where exactly is the energy going to come from to fuel the ambitious demand for electricity?
Our nuclear plants , that deliver 70 percent of existing energy demands , will do be decommissioned by then . As far as understand, there are no new nuclear plants being planned , nor is there any movement to extend the lives of the existing plants.
Julie Leach says
Thank you Marta, it is a good question. As we electrify our buildings and transportation sectors, we will greatly increase demand for clean electricity. TAF is involved in research, funding, and advocacy related to decarbonizing Ontario’s complex energy system and we will continue continue to provide updates and perspectives through our publications and blogs.
Lea Wiljer says
Thank you for all your hard work on this. It certainly is encouraging that Toronto is taking a leadership role. As an architect I’m most interested in the reductions in emmissions from buildings and am happy to see those targets being accelerated. One area that leaves a big gap, however, is still the energy retrofit needed on existing homes and small buildings. Providing incentives to homeowners to make small improvements when they renovate is just not enough to tackle this enormous issue.
I recently saw a presentation at the COP26 by a company in the Netherlands, now operating also in the UK, called ‘Energiesprong’. They have developed an innovative and efficient approach to home retrofits that is effective, cost efficent and fast – so relatively painless for the homeowner. It would be interesting to see how this kind of approach is accepted in the market but with the urgency required of us to make these changes, goverment regulation (and funding) is needed to make it happen. I do hope that programs like this one in the Netherland and UK spread rapidly and are adopted into the Transform TO initiatives, and ultimately at the Federal level.
Lea Wiljer says
Julie Leach says
Thanks for your comment Lea! TAF is working on demonstration and advocacy for rapid scale up of retrofits through an energiesprong-like model here in Canada. We call it the Retrofit Accelerator. Follow our work on the Retrofit Accelerator here: https://taf.ca/programs/retrofitaccelerator/ and our campaign for national funding for retrofit acceleration here: https://taf.ca/retrofit-acceleration-mission/ Learn more from our allies in this area such as the ReCover Initiative, Efficiency Canada’s Retrofit Mission, and Pembina Institute’s Reframed Initiative. Some municipalities in the GTHA are running programs and policies to support more home retrofits, but a massive scale up will be required to meet their climate targets.
Lea Wiljer says
Here is the link to Energiesprong: https://www.energiesprong.uk/newspage/unlocking-net-zero-retrofit-at-scale-in-the-uk-our-5-asks-of-government
Rylan Urban says
Great work, I’ve added the TransformTO Strategy to our national list of climate action plans: https://www.energyhub.org/climate-action-plans
Julie Leach says
Fantastic resource, thank you Rylan!
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Hi Jenny – We appreciate your feedback. Thank you!