Toronto declared a Climate Emergency. Now what?

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Watching Toronto City Council debate its climate emergency declaration, it was clear that even the most battle-scarred of politicos had been moved (dare I say scared?) by the tens of thousands of youth-led climate strikers who’d marched past City Hall the previous Friday.The motion – co-sponsored by Mayor John Tory and Councillor Mike Layton – passed unanimously. Greenpeace supported it because it’s more than just words, though there’s still a lot of work required to turn these intentions into action.

Mike Layton

Part of my remarks at today’s city council debate in climate emergency and acceleration motion.

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In declaring a climate emergency, Toronto City Council has committed to:

    • Set a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target in line with keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. The City has set a new target of net zero by at least 2050, and will look at ways to achieve this target by 2040. It will also set interim targets and carbon budgets to ensure that we are on track to meet those long-term targets.
    • Explore financing mechanisms to adequately fund climate action in the 2021 budget cycle (more on this below).
    • Meaningfully consult and cooperate with Indigenous communities on the development and implementation of the TransformTO climate action plan, in line with the City’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
    • Apply the City’s Equity Lens to TransformTO decision-making in order to ensure that strategies include and benefit equity-seeking groups.
    • Collaborate with youth to increase their participation in the development and implementation of TransformTO.
    • Apply a climate lens to evaluate the climate impacts of major City decisions including financial decisions.
    • Create a low-carbon jobs strategy that supports a decent work agenda and expands green industry sectors.
    • Initiate a plan to become a green investment City and exclude fossil fuels from City investments.

Turning these commitments into reality is still going to take a lot of work – keeping up the pressure in a context of competing budget priorities and a pro-fossil fuel lobby that never quits. Toronto does have some credibility on the file, as greenhouse gas emissions within the city are down 44% relative to 1990 (with the provincial coal phase-out lending a helping hand).

The easy reductions, however, are largely gone. Getting to net-zero is going to be harder. And expensive, though of course doing nothing or not enough is terrifyingly more expensive. MORE

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