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No. 7: Toronto's New Net Zero Strategy
A cautious hooray, but please please make it stronger. Progress on my MA thesis on renter-centered climate mitigation. Plus, skating and coatis.
Hi there cheeky coatis,
The City of Toronto’s new and updated TransformTO Net Zero Strategy goes to Infrastructure & Environment Committee this Thursday, Dec 2 (today if you’re reading this the day I publish). That’s what the majority of this newsletter is going to be about.
Before we get there… what else is new?
We’re back in ice skating time now! My friend Maureen and I skate as often as we can to combat our winter blues (see: seasonal depression) — and we are thrilled that we don’t have to use the City’s booking system this year. My favourite skating rink right now is the brand new Harbourfront rink (around the stage area they had). Other ones we like in the downtown core are College Park, Ryerson (busier usually because there are often people with hockey sticks), and Alexandra Park. Next on my list is Sherbourne Common.
I care a lot about finding ways to love the city we live in — Toronto.
The climate crisis can be and often is really anxiety-inducing. The lack of affordable housing has and continues to severely impact my friends and family. Skating in the winter (and long walks in other seasons) helps me stay grounded in my love for the city and dedication to make it better.
I hope you too can find ways to love the city you live in and communities you are a part of.
HOUSING & CLIMATE JUSTICE
either or both or taxing the rich
My research supervisor often tells me (and the other geography grad students) that we are full-time students. It is challenging to work on my self-directed research activities when I almost never go to campus and I can’t visit the location of my fieldwork (Boulder, Colorado).
Despite that, I am progressing on my thesis. Here is my recently published Research Spotlight “Climate Mitigation from a Renter-Centered Perspective” on York University’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change site. As I move into data analysis and writing, I am deeply appreciative of the renters in Boulder who shared their housing experiences and climate insights with me.
In particular, I wanted to highlight the Bedrooms are for People campaign who worked diligently to improve affordable housing in Boulder. Somehow, in Boulder, no more than three (3) unrelated adults can live together in the same home. Local residents worked hard and narrowly lost their recent municipal referendum ballot vote. This has made me wonder how municipal referendums would work in Toronto — where there is still a significant number of “NIMBYs (not in my backyard) folks who oppose rooming houses and other types of social/affordable housing.
However, I am encouraged by municipal wins elsewhere — like in the City of Calgary, where the election of new Mayor Jyoti Gondek and a new Council brought forward a Climate Emergency Declaration as one of their first actions. The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance also published this report “This is Not a Drill: How Communities Are Using The Climate Emergency to Make Big New Moves to Decarbonize Locally” earlier this year if you want to learn more about accelerated municipal climate actions.
life, activism, politics
OK here we go — TRANSFORMTO NET ZERO BY 2040.
As you probably know, I work part-time at the Toronto Environmental Alliance. We published our in-depth analysis on the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy earlier this week. Save yourself the time reading 136 pages of the strategy report and 145 pages of the technical report and just read our blog (and keep reading below).
This morning, I participated in a press conference with Councillor Mike Layton, Councillor Gord Perks, and activists from Fridays for Future and CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment). If you’re interested, I’ve included the full speech at the end, since I worked hard on it and only a handful of reporters got to see it. There are/were 78 deputations at Infrastructure & Environment Committee right now (started at 2:30PM at 3 minutes each).
Here’s the low down if you want the details.
Toronto will be one of three cities in North America with a net-zero emissions by 2040 target (others are San Francisco and Los Angeles). This is critical because the technical modelling that the City of Toronto did shows that we cannot meet or exceed our 2030 target without this new 2040 line.
Beyond this specific net zero by 2040 target, there is also a more immediate 2025 target of 45% reduction of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels). These reduction targets are fundamentally important so Toronto and Canada contributes to our global responsibility to address the climate crisis.
BUILDINGS (taken directly from TEA’s analysis because I wrote most of this section and I’m trying to get this published today!!)
“Buildings are the biggest source of emissions, accounting for 57% of Toronto’s total emissions, and this plan aims at eliminating natural gas heating across the city. If done right, accelerating actions in this area can cut emissions, improve housing and create good, green jobs. Our recommendations:
Determine the City’s powers to accelerate the implementation of - and compliance with - new building standards (Toronto Green Standard and the Net Zero Strategy for Existing Buildings), in order to quickly transition off natural gas for heating
Develop a plan to ensure green renovations and energy retrofits don't cause renovictions or affect affordability for tenants and low-income residents”
INDIGENOUS RIGHTS, EQUITY, & CLIMATE JUSTICE
Surprisingly, the Strategy report included a fantastic land acknowledgement more radical than anything I’ve ever seen from the City on climate.
“We acknowledge and recognize the efforts of Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island for their climate leadership long before Toronto’s Net Zero Strategy and for being active drivers of positive change. In 2019, land defenders and water protectors fought against fossil fuel projects which is equivalent to nearly one quarter of annual total U.S and Canadians emissions or approximately 400 new coal-fired power plants1 . We are eternally grateful for Indigenous stewardship of these lands and waters since time immemorial.”
On of the 2022-2025 short term actions is to “Work with Indigenous rights holders and urban Indigenous communities to share knowledge and learnings”. This will include an Indigenous climate action grants program and the implementation of a Reconciliation Action Plan (assuming with the City’s Indigenous Affairs Office). Interesting they added this as an action: “Explore ways to measure and communicate progress that speaks to broader questions such as "Are we good ancestors?" or “How are we honouring the land, water, and all our relations?”
For youth, I think it is embarrassing that the only thought-through actions are “Develop and implement youth engagement strategy” and “Design and launch a City-academic innovation hub to support youth-led climate initiatives and innovative student pilot projects”. Young people deserve a real decision-making voice, not just an academic-municipal partnership program.
Equity can and should be at the heart of this and any climate action strategy. Climate change already disproportionately impacts the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals and populations. That’s why we need to ensure an equity lens is applied to all actions and that our recommendations even in the sector-specific actions areas (i.e buildings, transportation, etc) include an equity analysis.
There’s a lot more to add but I don’t want to go on forever, so I’ll leave it here.
If you’ve made it to the end and you haven’t googled coati yet… my fiancé Mat is in Costa Rica right now for work and this is a cool mammal that lives there I’ve never heard of before. It’s like a skinny raccoon in my opinion. Here are some photos for fun!
And happy happy holidays!!
I can’t promise another Dwell & Drizzle in 2021 as we’re nearing the end of the year. However, looking back, this was one of my major goals in January — to see how I felt about this newsletter format and where it would land. While my original plan was closer to monthly, I feel proud of the posts I made especially while being a full-time grad student, part time non-profit employee, and sometimes activist whenever I can squeeze it in.
If you’re keen, I’d love to hear from you. A reader sent me an email this week and it really helped me put today’s newsletter together.
Talk to you in the new year,
Full Press Conference Speech | Delivered on 9AM on Dec 2, 2021
“Good morning! My name is Diana Yoon and I’m a Climate Specialist at the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA). I started out as a youth climate activist and have dedicated my career to working on solutions to the climate crisis from an equity-driven perspective.
We need ambitious climate action, and we need it now!
Net Zero by 2040 is encouraging for sure. We’re looking to see that Toronto doesn’t just set these ambitious targets, but that the City takes clear and concrete action to meet these targets.
What does that look like?
It looks like
Green and healthy buildings and homes
Improved and expanded low-carbon transportation
Equity and climate justice
Accountability every single year so we stay on track
For buildings, we must cut emissions, improve housing, and create good, green jobs for our communities! This is just the starting point. The scale up we need will reach every single home, office, school, community centre!! We can and must also eliminate natural gas heating across the city. But it cannot be done on the backs of renters and low-income residents. The City needs an equity and affordability impact plan for green renovations and energy retrofits.
Our TransformTO transportation actions have to be consistent with the reality on the ground. We must expand public transit and active transportation for underserved communities that need it the most.
We need to see the City take equity and climate justice in the strategy seriously by centering the voices of equity-deserving groups.
Ultimately, the net-zero strategy is still under-resourced. We need annual progress reports to make sure we are on track to cutting our emissions. The City must stay accountable to us, the people, our communities and to our future. Now is THE opportunity for Toronto City Council to strengthen the plan by listening to the recommendations put forward by residents, experts, and local organizations.
That’s why we need and deserve a TransformTO net-zero climate strategy that is as bold as we can be and fully funded, starting from this upcoming 2022 Budget.”