On Friday, Toronto released Change is in the Air, its proposed framework for action on climate change and clean air, and it is a thing of beauty (albeit more of a sketch at this point than a finished oeuvre).
As someone who has been a semi-professional complainer about the lack of action on climate change in Toronto over the last 8 years, I had to resist the urge to start hugging people as it was announced.
It not only follows the European Union in setting greenhouse gas reduction targets based on what scientists say is necessary to prevent dangerous climate change (Dalton McGuinty and Stephen Harper, take note), it also proposes a suite of measures that could conceivably get us there. As the Toronto Star points out, there’s still a lot of work to do in fleshing it out, but I think they’ve set their sights high and anyone who loves this city (or planet) should get behind it, because that’s the only way it will ever get implemented. And besides, there’s still lots of room for your ideas, and the framework even builds in space for neighbourhood-based initiatives.
So why is this plan different than, say, the 2000 Environmental Plan?
First, you’ve got a mayor and a decent number of councillors who get it when it comes to the environment and want to see this happen (in spite of the many naysayers who invest their energy in coming up with reasons why this can’t be done). This is a very different political situation from the first mega-city Council.
Second, this is a much more coherent package than the Environment Plan, which was all over the map and where most of the recommendations were ‘study this further and then decide what to do’.
Thirdly, I think we can rally enough support (and commitment in their own lives) amongst the public to make this a reality. There’s a hunger for leadership and bold ideas on what to do, and I’m hoping people get behind this.
And finally, not only will some of the measures raise funds for implementation (the plan calls for vehicle registration fees and/or parking fees to pay for some of the measures), but if we can keep up the pressure on the federal and provincial governments to get serious about climate change, then they’re going to go looking frantically for someone who can sell them tonnes of greenhouse gas reductions. And if the City has a decent plan than will achieve real reductions ready to go, they can invite the ‘senior’ levels of government to sign on the bottom line.
What kind of things are in the framework?
- Reduce city-wide emissions of greenhouse gases by 6 per cent by 2012; 30 per cent by 2020; and 80 per cent by 2050. Just what the climate scientists ordered.
- Retrofit 50 per cent of homes and small businesses to make them more energy-efficient by 2020. This will save us money, and low-income households should benefit the most.
- Set mandatory green building standards for new buildings by 2012, at the latest. There’ll be a legal fight with developers and maybe the province, but this has to happen because the provincial government is moving too slow and thinking too small.
- Implement Transit City, the $6-billion light-rail transit plan. Now we just have to find a way to pay for it…. see next bullet.
- Cut small-engine use by 50 per cent by 2020. Big smog reductions by getting rid of leaf blowers et al.
- Set annual parking or a motor-vehicle-registration fee to pay for building improvements to save energy and renewable energy programs. Note: the city is open to road tolls/congestion fees (which could raise big bucks) if done on a regional basis, which I think makes more sense so we don’t drive business out of subway-serviced downtown and into the more car-dependent suburbs.
- Complete a 1,000-kilometre bicycle path network by 2012. Like Transit City, this means taking space away from cars which won’t be easy…
- Convert the city’s fleet of diesel-fuel vehicles to bio-diesel by 2015, and require fleets they hire to use biodiesel. Biodiesel – if produced sustainably – can be a great thing.
- Reduce electricity for pumping and treating water by cutting water use by 50 per cent by 2020.
- Expand deep-lake-water cooling to meet 90 per cent of space cooling needs in the downtown and along the waterfront by 2020.
- Meet 25 per cent of energy demand in the Toronto area from renewable sources by 2020. Go Solar City.
- Expand and extend Toronto Hydro energy conservation and renewable-energy programs. A lot of the necessary conservation and green power measures can be paid for out of electricity rates, rather than the tax base.
- Planting trees and greening roofs to help the City deal with higher temperatures, while reducing water run-off.
- Finding ways to support local food growers, reducing pollution from trucking and supporting the greenbelt.
The first big public consultation on the framework is on April 29 at Exhibition Place – so be there and be part of the solution (details will be posted later).