Toronto City Council wants action on climate change

City Hall staff must show how Toronto can meet its climate change targets.

City Hall staff must show how Toronto can meet its climate change targets.

Last week, Toronto City Council unanimously passed a motion asking city staff to draft a plan outlining how Toronto will meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Perhaps galvanized by the Environmental Commissioner’s recent report on the province’s actions on climate – which the report described as falling short of what is needed to achieve Ontario’s targets –Council is demonstrating concern for municipal action toward the 2050 goal of an 80% reduction in GHG emissions – a target the city adopted in the Climate Change Action Plan and the Power to Live Green.

City staff have their work cut out for them. Council listed specific pieces of information that should appear in the plan, which include an analysis of the largest sources of GHG emissions (buildings and transportation); rolling out consultations with diverse stakeholders (Councillors, department staff, community leaders); and working with other municipal governments in addition to provincial and federal levels of government.

Moreover, Council is asking for annual updates starting in 2015 on the the progress the city is making toward our reductions targets. Toronto has already cut GHG emissions by 15% below 1990 levels, exceeding the 2012 target of a 6% reduction.  Reaching the 2020 goal of a 30% reduction will be much harder, so it is essential that we have a clear and collaborative plan.  And while it may seem far away, there is no time to waste in establishing a pathway to the ambitious 2050 target of an 80% reduction.

We strongly believe that this plan will lay important groundwork as we transition to a low-carbon future. Toronto has an opportunity here to establish its place as a leader in environmental responsibility alongside other cities around the world that are taking bold actions towards urban sustainability.

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What we’re doing about the indoor environment

Woman reading at home

Energy conservation doesn’t mean giving up fresh air and comfortable temperatures.

While a lot of our work at Toronto Atmospheric Fund is focused on making the city’s buildings more energy efficient, we’ve started to turn our attention to other concerns inside the building.

Initially, we were strictly involved with the implementation of energy-efficient measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  However, we’ve come to realize the importance of other factors that can be described as Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) which include air quality, temperature and lighting.

Buildings are complex systems where mechanical equipment, materials and occupants interact to influence performance.  What do we mean by performance? Good building performance can be understood from different perspectives: energy efficiency, occupant comfort, durability and aesthetics, to name a few.  Due to the systems-based nature of buildings, improving performance in one area will often have an effect on another area.

For example, replacing the windows in a building prevents air from leaking in or out and so improves energy performance.  The catch is that by restricting the amount of outside air coming in, we also reduce the amount of fresh air in the building. Less fresh air can negatively affect indoor air quality unless compensated for by something else such as more ventilation supplied by the building’s mechanical equipment.

Over the past few decades, a series of events led to a better understanding of the interaction between energy efficiency measures and IEQ.  Following the energy crisis in the early 1970s, there was a surge in energy efficient upgrades in buildings. Some of these measures included addressing air leakage and reducing ventilation rates.  Then, in the 1980s, occupant complaints about numerous symptoms associated with living and working indoors led to what became known as Sick Building Syndrome.  The law of unintended consequences was at play here: While the buildings were using energy more efficiently, the health and comfort of the occupants was worsening.

Our thinking has evolved as a result. The green building industry promotes a holistic approach to the design and construction of buildings.  Even so, when we embark on the retrofit of an existing structure, we have often remained narrowly focused on energy performance.  Now we’re increasingly attentive to the potential for some retrofit measures to impact IEQ.  While our mandate to improve Toronto’s air quality has traditionally focused on outdoor air, we’re extending our efforts to encompass indoor air quality as well.

To that end, we’ve launched a new research program that will examine the impacts of various retrofit measures on both energy consumption and IEQ.   By collecting this type of pre- and post-retrofit data, we can undertake retrofits that achieve multiple benefits rather than settling for tradeoffs between energy efficiency and IEQ.

As we continue to reduce the impact of Toronto’s built environment on our climate, we are also working to improve the lived experience for occupants – the reason why we have buildings in the first place.

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Toronto’s taxis turn green

Transportation — mainly cars and trucks — accounts for about 40% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, along with a whopping 80% of the city’s health damaging air pollutant emissions. It’s also the one area where Toronto has failed to achieve any progress in reducing emissions. While emissions from all other sources in Toronto are on a downward trajectory, transportation emissions have been steadily increasing for the past 25 years. So any new policy or program to reduce transportation emissions is a welcome relief.

That’s why we are so excited about City Council’s decision  last month to include green standards in the new taxicab licensing by-law which took effect on July 1st. There are approximately 5,500 taxis in Toronto and, on average, one taxi will rack up 10 times more kilometres/year compared to a personal vehicle. So while taxicabs are a minority of the total vehicles in the City, they account for a disproportionately high share of GHG emissions and air pollution. Continue reading

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Hackathon showcases winning ideas

Hackathon winners

The prize winners of ALERT’s Power of 50 Hackathon.

Last Sunday I enjoyed the unique experience of being one of the judges in the ALERT Power of 50 Hackathon. ALERT stands for Affordable & Low-Income Environmental Renewal in Toronto – a project supported by the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance and run by Ramtin Attar and Jessie Ma. In fact, Attar and Ma used the prize money they had won in CivicAction’s earlier Emerging Leaders contest to provide the prizes for the Hackathon.

For this contest, teams were assigned to craft approaches that would support energy efficiency in residential towers. It was a tall order given that the participants had only 36 hours to devise a plan. Seven teams pitched us their best ideas, which were refined with help from a team of knowledgeable industry specialists. The top three ideas were awarded cash prizes.

Participation was entirely voluntary and teams were made up of people with backgrounds in business, engineering, and digital design. Teams could address various challenge components, such as the need to measure and record energy use, the best way to communicate energy use benchmarking, and how to reward reductions in energy consumption. Two of the winning teams outlined how to communicate individual building energy data and benchmarking information in a more engaging way. The third winning team focused on how to encourage tenants to use less energy in their living space.

I was struck by how successful the teams were in zeroing in on some of the fundamental challenges we face at TAF every day, such as the need for good data and accurate local case studies, the timely delivery of information, and the roles of the tenant – despite having little or no previous knowledge of the challenges associated with driving energy efficiency activity in large buildings.

But as co-judge Rob Detta Colli mentioned during his presentation of the prizes, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” With just 36 hours to tease out the complexities of this issue, many of the participants’ ideas were similar to ones we commonly see in the sector.

But I’m not sure that this really matters. In the end, this contest has done a fine job of getting the wheels turning in two dozen great minds, building awareness of the importance and complexity of energy efficiency on a large scale – and that is a solid investment.

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Good transit systems are key to sustainability

subway

Overhauling public transit addresses environmental and health issues. Photo: TTC.ca

In the immediate aftermath of the provincial election, Move the GTHA wrote an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne. As a group, we wanted to extend our congratulations to the Premier for her party’s victory and for the support that victory represents for the Liberal’s strong position on building and improving transportation networks in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

As David Suzuki and Faisal Moola point out in their excellent op-ed (Wynne’s victory sent a message: It’s time to get moving on transit), Premier Wynne’s commitment to transit is bold and visionary. The Liberal plan is to spend $15 billion over 10 years on extending public transit systems, building infrastructure to support active transportation, and improving GO transit service in the GTHA.

Rolling out these projects will help alleviate gridlock and congestion so severe it represents $6 billion a year in lost productivity; it will help address chronic health issues such as physical inactivity and obesity, estimated to cost the GTHA $4 billion a year; it will be key to generating a sense of community and integration by connecting people more directly with the downtown core in Canada’s biggest city.

And the big plus is that more transit options that help move people away from single occupancy vehicles  means better air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions – very important since emissions from transportation are a persistent source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which, in the GTHA, is steadily rising.

In our letter to the Premier, we stressed the need for immediate service improvements to build public confidence that overhauling the transit system can be accomplished within a reasonable time frame. We also requested that new revenue streams, earmarked explicitly for transit investment, be sought.

The fact is that what the Liberals have promised has fallen short of what Metrolinx, in The Big Move, has said is needed, which is a 25-year GTHA transportation plan, estimated to cost $50 billion. The Premier leads a majority government and she can use that position of strength to take on The Big Move. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential to addressing global warming, the single biggest crisis we all face. The Premier must continue on her bold course, and must be willing to fully embrace this challenge if we are to live in a sustainable city within our environmental means.

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