The $1.5 Billion Lunch

New subway train

Premier Kathleen Wynne promises $1.5B per year to invest in transit.

The Royal York Hotel is not TAF’s usual lunch spot, but we found ourselves there this past Monday, along with a dozen members of Move the GTHA. Our path to the Royal York has been one we’ve been travelling for almost two years now, starting with a half-day session in the Don Valley Brickworks in June of 2012. It was during this session that Move the GTHA was born from a dozen community groups representing varying perspectives on life in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Whether we worried about the quality of life in the Toronto region as we wasted more time sitting in traffic, the $6B in annual losses in productivity due to congestion, the growing incidence of chronic disease related to inactivity, or greenhouse gas and air pollution, we all agreed on one thing. We wanted serious, long-term investment in improved transportation infrastructure in the GTHA, especially for transit, and we saw the time between June 2012 and June 2014 as a key window within which we would succeed or fail in securing this commitment from government.

Fast forward past the Metrolinx Investment Strategy release in May 2013 and Anne Golden and Paul Beford’s Transit Investment Strategy in December 2013, to Monday’s event hosted by the Toronto and Region Board of Trade (a Move the GTHA ally). Before lunch was even served to the more than 500 people who attended, Premier Kathleen Wynne planted the flag on the government’s approach to investing in transportation infrastructure province-wide. She announced that the provincial budget – expected in the next few weeks – will include $1.5 billion per year starting in 2014/15 dedicated to funding transit in the GTHA.

At our table were representatives from Toronto Environmental Alliance, CivicAction, Registered Nurses Association of Ontario,Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, the Pembina Institute, and Transport Action Ontario – all active members of Move the GTHA. Others from Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Code Red TO, Toronto Public Health, and Evergreen CityWorks – the Move the GTHA convenor – were in the room or monitoring the speech closely. We were fresh from a morning phone call where we had discussed – as we do on a weekly basis – our approach to creating unified messages to amplify the urgency we all feel about securing the necessary investment to get our region moving. And we took this important opportunity to hear first-hand and analyze jointly what our Provincial leader had to say.

Premier Wynne is making transportation investment a priority in her budget, earmarking portions of existing general revenue streams to create a $1.5 billion GTHA fund dedicated to building and improving the transportation system.

While not the $2 billion per year Metrolinx indicates is needed, the level of investment proposed would certainly kick The Big Move into gear and would significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that stem from transportation – a source of emissions that is persistently growing. But we need more details explaining how the investment in transit will be managed within the full scope of the Provincial budget, and how operating costs and improvements, not just capital costs, will be addressed. All the same, buoyed by the Province’s commitment, the room gave the Premier a standing ovation.

Based on a recent Angus Reid poll, commissioned jointly by the groups involved in Move the GTHA, the public is warming to the idea of prioritizing transportation funding, with 59% of respondents saying they would be more likely to support a political leader who proposed one or more funding ideas to improve their transportation options. But key revenue generating tools like increases to the gas tax and to the HST still receive a resounding thumbs down from the public.

The municipal realm offers a similarly conflicted response. Toronto City Council passed a resolution on May 7, 2013 indicating their endorsement for dedicated revenues to be implemented by the Province to fund the Metrolinx Big Move plan, yet did not endorse any specific revenue generating approaches and explicitly rejected twelve revenue tools under consideration.

So while the Premier’s announcement does offer a watershed moment in this long-simmering public dialogue, what happens when the provincial budget is presented next month is critical.

Along with our Move the GTHA colleagues, we will make sure the implementation of a regional transportation system is top-of-mind among political decision makers and the public. TAF’s carbon reduction mandate – and the planet – demands it.

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You too? Students frustrated by long commutes

GO train

Students want better transit and shorter commute times.

Last week, CivicAction and the University of Toronto co-hosted a lively panel discussion, “From the Boardroom to the Dorm Room,” to discuss the commuting challenges faced by an increasing number of students. This was the latest event organized by CivicAction in support of their Your32 transportation campaign, asking political leaders of all stripes to investment in a region-wide transportation network for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) including much-needed improvements to public transit, roads and highways.

The youth contingent is another voice added to the chorus of GTHA residents clamouring for solutions to over-packed public transit vehicles and gridlock. According to University of Toronto President Meric Gertler, 68% of first-year students live off campus and rely on transit to get to school. According to Dr. Gertler, “The region’s appalling commute times make it much harder for students to engage in university life both inside the classroom and outside the classroom in the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that are a key part of post-secondary education.”

The GTHA’s transit system is nearing a tipping point. Commuters routinely complain of subways and streetcars bursting at the seams during rush hour and highways clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The consequences include countless hours of lost productivity and health concerns associated with long bouts of inactivity.

Moreover, gridlock is a major contributor to GHG emissions and air pollution. Transportation is now the single largest and fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Toronto, accounting for 36% of emissions. Transportation is also a significant source of smog pollutants such as nitrogen oxide.

Toronto Atmospheric Fund is part of a coalition of groups that make up Move the GTHA. We’re calling on the three major Ontario political parties to tell GTHA residents how they’ll raise new sources of funding to fix the region’s transit problem.

U of T professor Matti Siemiatycki, in attendance at CivicAction’s panel discussion, observed that the Toronto region has a history of “missed opportunities” when it comes to transit. His recommendation is that university students express themselves by voting for candidates who will get behind this issue and make meaningful commitments to improving it.

If you’d like to know more about the actions Move the GTHA is taking, take a look at the group’s website for upcoming events and announcements, or follow the conversation on twitter. Please feel free to tell us about your commute and what should be done to fix it – and if you haven’t done so yet, add your name to the Your32 pledge for better transportation.


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Fighting doomsday: why mitigation is as important as adaptation

Shrinking ice berg

Mitigation reduces the rate and the magnitude of global warming.

As an agency mandated to work at the local level to support the mitigation of global climate impacts, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) outlines our failure in stark relief.

Dubbed by the media as the “official prophecy of doom,” Climate 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability  points to a growing body of evidence – did we need more evidence?? – that climate change is altering our hydrological systems, altering the geographic ranges of species, negatively affecting crop yields, causing extreme weather events, and disproportionately burdening the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The report shows how climate risks are going to be harder on disadvantaged populations regardless of the wealth of their home country. Climate change impacts are expected to create health problems, especially in low-income countries, as well as displacement which will cause the most misery in those places that are least able to accommodate planned migration.

Clearly, we need to make adaptation a top priority. But what this report also emphasizes is that given the magnitude of that task coupled with a relatively weak commitment to adaptation efforts to date, we must continue to mitigate climate change to help blunt the worst of its effects and to buy time to put adaptation measures in place world-wide.

According to the IPCC report, “Prospects for climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development are related fundamentally to what the world accomplishes with climate-change mitigation. Since mitigation reduces the rate as well as the magnitude of warming, it also increases the time available for adaptation to a particular level of climate change, potentially by several decades. Delaying mitigation actions may reduce options for climate-resilient pathways in the future.”

Gone are the optimistic “can-do” days of the Toronto Conference in 1988 during which Toronto City Council members were inspired to create the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. But what endures is the slogan of that time: “think globally, act locally” – a manifesto that only deepens in relevance.

The actions taken (or not taken) in wealthy countries will continue to reverberate around the world. Slowing emissions in Canada’s largest city is still critically important and part of a collective push by major cities in North America toward sustainable urban centres. The global ramifications of our efforts are many and include the protection, to some extent, of the world’s most vulnerable populations from the worst impacts of climate change.

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Are you ready for the next storm? Probably not

Most Canadians are not prepared for extreme weather.

Most Canadians are not prepared for extreme weather.

From the person on the street to the climate change scientist, most of us – 75% of Canadians according to a recent poll – acknowledge that climate change has precipitated increasingly frequent severe weather events.  Even so, less than 10% of those are taking precautionary measures against the extreme flooding and storms we’ve been witnessing lately.

This public nonchalance was revealed in RBC’s Annual Water Attitude Study which polled just over 2,000 Canadians earlier this year, and comes on the heels of some of the most extreme weather we’ve had in years – floods in Calgary, Toronto and throughout Europe, along with droughts in California, Australia, and many other countries.

The Canadian insurance industry has pegged the cost of three severe weather events in 2013 – floods in Calgary and Toronto in addition to the ice storm in southern Ontario – at more than $3 billion in damages.  The big reinsurance companies (which issue insurance to insurance companies) started paying attention to climate change decades ago; they sponsored studies and sounded polite warnings of future risk.  “There are more and more storms happening, and we’re seeing extreme weather events that used to happen once every 40 years… that can now be expected to happen once every six years,” said Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

One would think that the latest storms and floods of biblical proportions would be potent motivation for action to reduce climate change pollution and minimize its impacts. But this latest poll seems to indicate that, for most Canadians, it’s just business as usual.  Despite the ho-hum attitude, individuals, businesses and governments will be paying the bill just the same.  Just wait until you open the next bill from your insurance company: premiums have already been raised by 15% to 20%, deductibles have doubled and “peril-based pricing” has been introduced as insurers foresee ongoing increases in climate change/weather-related claims.

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How energy reporting can reduce emissions, create jobs and save millions

If it’s true that you can only manage what you can measure, then implementing a reporting system where owners of large buildings submit data on their building’s energy use would clearly be a useful tool to drive energy efficiency measures on a big scale.

At TAF, we decided that a wide-ranging discussion of the merits (and weaknesses) of an energy reporting requirement (ERR) policy should be the topic of discussion at our recent

Toronto's stock of big buildings contribute about half of the city's emissions.

Toronto’s stock of big buildings contribute about half of the city’s emissions.

Dan Leckie Forum. The forum is an annual event where we bring together stakeholders of varied backgrounds to brainstorm about ways to reduce urban-generated GHG emissions or address air pollution.

The City of Toronto is now considering adopting an ERR, following in the footsteps of many cities in the U.S. and abroad.  ERRs require owners or managers of large commercial and multi-residential buildings to measure and report once a year on their buildings’ energy consumption.  Data coming out of the U.S. has shown a positive correlation between tracking – or benchmarking – energy use and reducing energy consumption.

This is a very big deal when you consider that Toronto’s building stock contributes approximately 50% of the city’s GHG emissions, and that, further, the city has an emissions reduction target of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020.

We came away with four key insights from the discussion, moderated by Tyler Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Corporate Knights, and accompanied by presentations from TAF’s Bryan Purcell and Caroline Keicher of the Institute for Market Transformation, a non-profit based in Washington, DC:

  1. To have a meaningful impact, energy benchmarking and reporting must be mandatory.
    If energy benchmarking and reporting is to lead to a significant reduction in city-wide emissions, the majority of large buildings must participate. The experiences of major U.S. cities suggest that the only way to achieve large-scale reductions is to adopt a city-wide energy reporting requirement.  Voluntary-based energy benchmarking along with sustainability certification programs have produced impressive results among participants, but only a very small percentage of the city’s big building owners take part in these programs.  A Toronto energy reporting requirement should build on and complement existing voluntary programs. In addition, the benefits of energy reporting are maximized when accompanied by appropriate support – for example, financial incentives or guaranteed savings.
  2. In addition to being a GHG reduction priority, making Toronto’s buildings more energy efficient is also a significant local economic development opportunity. Investments in energy efficiency measures translates into local jobs for skilled workers (e.g. to perform energy audits, energy-saving upgrades and retrofits).  Moreover, TAF preliminary analysis indicates potential savings of more than $170 million by 2020 that could be re-directed into the local economy.
  3. Prior to adopting an ERR in Toronto, the city should undertake a) a robust consultation process that engages a wide variety of stakeholders; and b) learn how municipal governments in U.S. cities addressed stakeholder concerns prior to adopting energy reporting policies. While energy reporting policies are simple in principle, implementation can entail complexities and a number of options – including integrating an ERR with utility-led programs and other city policies and initiatives.  We found that stakeholders are concerned about disclosing energy performance data and how that data might affect property values. Additional concerns include: fairness and accuracy in how energy performance is compared across buildings; privacy and data access in suite-metered buildings; and implementation costs for both building operators and the city. All of these issues can be addressed through thoughtful policy design.
  4. The City and its partners must be committed to analyzing the data and sharing findings in a way that is of real value to building owners and the broader community.  Perhaps the most critical determinant in generating a positive stakeholder response to an ERR will hinge on whether the city presents the ERR data as useful information for building operators, utilities, city planners, and others.  Succeeding in this regard will transform energy reporting from a perceived regulatory burden to a valuable service for participants.

For more information about energy reporting requirements and how other cities have implemented them, see the 2014 Dan Leckie Forum background paper.

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