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Toronto Endorses Fossil Non-Proliferation Treaty, Adopts New Building Retrofit Standards

Toronto city councillors carried off a two-fer this week, adopting two new policies Wednesday to accelerate energy-efficient building retrofits before endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Thursday afternoon on a 22-2 vote.

“We made history!!” trumpeted ClimateFast, the local campaign group that had spent the last month promoting the non-proliferation treaty motion, gathering more than 1,000 petition signatures along with Fridays for Future Toronto, Mobilize TO, and Seniors for Climate Action Now!. Canada’s largest city became its second to endorse the treaty; Vancouver was the first in the world to back the global treaty initiative last year.

A day earlier, councillors adopted a new green standard that will reduce emissions in buildings and transportation, as well as a net-zero standard for existing buildings. The new rules put Toronto “on a solid path to a net-zero future,” The Atmospheric Fund writes, after “dozens of community members including TAF, building industry representatives, architects, climate activists, and youth groups showed support for both policies through letters and deputations.”

Local elected officials had lots to say about both initiatives.

“We have seen fires, floods, murderous heat, and yet governments continue to ignore the immediacy of the climate crisis,” said Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale), who co-sponsored the treaty motion. “Ignorance at this point should be impossible,” and “our youth and future generations have the most to lose from a lack of immediate action to stop fossil fuel expansion.” So “I am happy to have Council endorse the Treaty and look forward to a greener, healthier future.”

“By endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, Toronto joins a network of cities globally in advancing our climate goals,” said co-sponsor Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 17, Don Valley North). “The effect of climate change is no longer in the distant future and more must be done to reduce carbon emissions quickly. This endorsement reiterates our commitment to an equitable and green post-pandemic recovery.”

Mayor John Tory covered some of the same ground in his response to the two energy retrofit programs. “With temperature records shattered in Canada in recent weeks, it’s critical that we reduce community-wide emissions to net-zero as soon as possible,” he said. “While the challenges of transforming how we build, renovate, and operate our homes and buildings are massive, so too will be the benefits in terms of our climate, our health, economy, and resilience.”

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty takes aim at the 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by oil, gas, and coal. In April, the treaty was endorsed by 101 Nobel laureates ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate.

“No city, province, or country can make this energy transition alone,” FFNPT Initiative Chair Tzeporah Berman said in a release. “Sadly, the great work that is being done locally in Toronto is being undermined by higher levels of government. Global cooperation is needed to backstop local efforts to reduce GHG emissions quickly.”

The Toronto Green Standard Version 4 will eliminate nearly two million tonnes of emissions from buildings by 2050, while requiring electric vehicle charging and active transportation infrastructure in all new structures, the TAF release states. Under the new strategy for existing buildings, the city will begin phasing in mandatory emissions performance standards in 2025, a move that will create the equivalent of 7,000 full-time jobs over 30 years.

“Extreme heat is already causing an average of 120 premature deaths [in the city] annually, and this number is expected to double by 2050 without strong action,” TAF writes. “Retrofit measures such as improving building envelopes and installing heat pumps greatly reduce exposure to extreme heat and will ensure Torontonians are safe during increasingly frequent and severe heat waves.”

Election climate

This article was written by Chris Hatch and was published in Canada’s National Observer on July 9, 2021.

We’re not officially in an election campaign but it sure looked like one this week. Justin Trudeau, freshly shorn and shaven, was travelling the country handing out climate cash from podiums emblazoned with slogans like “A Cleaner Future.”

In the past few days, the Liberals announced:

Federal funding to replace coal with electric arc furnaces at Algoma Steel in Ontario. That announcement was $420 million and the prime minister hinted a similar announcement is in the works for a steel plant in Hamilton.

Money for a high-frequency train running on dedicated tracks between Toronto and Quebec City.

Funding for Calgary’s Green Line — a light rail project that’s been stalled under the Kenney government.

new zero-emission deadline for all new cars and light duty trucks. This was a strange announcement — three federal ministers announced a new “mandatory target” of 2035. But they wouldn’t say what laws or regulations would make the new target “mandatory.” A cynic might have wondered if the point was to get the date and word “mandatory” on the record.

There were actually more announcements, but you get the point: the Liberals clearly intend to campaign on climate. At the Algoma steel announcement, Trudeau declared, “there’s no doubt that climate change is the test of our generation.”

In Alberta, the prime minister was eager to call out denial and delay: “There’s a tremendous opportunity, and the fact that some politicians here in Alberta have been fighting against even recognizing that climate change is real has slowed down Alberta’s ability to prepare for the economic future and the jobs of the future.”

Against the backdrop of extreme weather, fires and mass fatalities, the campaign focus should be about speed — how urgently will the feds act to defend Canadians from climate impacts and how quickly will they drive down carbon emissions? But it’s not at all clear that any other party can compete with the Liberals and raise the urgency.

The Conservatives now have a climate plan. It’s much more credible than past versions but party leader Erin O’Toole has hardly been a voice of climate urgency.

The NDP had leverage with the minority government but hasn’t prioritized climate action. They’ve made some useful amendments in committees but haven’t promoted anything voters would remember beyond the tired and facile “you bought a pipeline” criticism of the Liberals.

The Greens? They ought to be the drumbeat of urgency but Annamie Paul never really emerged as a climate hawk and the party seems paralyzed by internal battles.

The Bloc Québécois does have a real opportunity to drive urgency. Quebecers are highly climate-motivated and understand climate impacts all too well. In an election campaign, the Bloc is well-positioned to drive debate about the policies and support needed to protect Quebecers from impacts like floods and deadly heat waves.

Adapting to climate change has never been much of a political issue in Canada. But this summer has already shown that we are grossly unprepared. Governments had plenty of warning that an unprecedented heat dome was going to roast western North America. Even so, we couldn’t muster basic emergency response. Heat stroke victims waited hours for ambulances and calls to 911 were simply put on hold.

It’s incredible after so many years of warnings, but Canada doesn’t have a national adaptation strategy. There’s a federal process underway to develop one but we can’t afford to wait years for action.

As the old saying goes, campaigns matter. If we really are heading into a federal election, Canadians deserve one in which the parties compete over the urgency of cutting climate pollution and defending ourselves from the crises we’re already experiencing.