Looking Forward: Heat Another Reminder of Needed Change

by Markus O'Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

Record setting temperatures, wildfires on the move, and a landmark report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) making clear that the Earth is already at the point where impacts of climate disruption will be felt for decades. It's been a scary summer in Canada and the global challenge may feel insurmountable.

The current heatwave in Toronto, reminds us that we are all impacted, and all have a part to play. Individuals and local governments can do something. In fact, it's these collective changes that can make the biggest difference. And the time for action is now.

So what actions are we taking? Just prior to the release of this report, several new policies went to Council as our city continues to grapple with both its own responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while also preparing for the impacts of a changing climate.

Council updated the Toronto Green Standard for new buildings starting in 2022, meaning all new construction in the city will be held to a higher, more environmentally friendly standard. This may impact building materials selected from windows to concrete, add electric vehicle parking, reduce stormwater runoff or heat impacts and encourage biodiversity.

The Net Zero Existing Building Strategy was adopted as a roadmap to bring all existing residential, commercial and institutional buildings to zero carbon emissions within the next 30 years.

Recommendations in the plan include requiring regular emissions audits and government support to make necessary retrofits of existing homes more affordable. Currently homes and buildings account for 55% of all GHG emissions in Toronto, so these strategies are critical in reaching our local emissions targets and will need to be funded.

The way the City handles wastewater will again be reviewed. The costs for handling wastewater and storm surges in sewers are currently built into our water bills. Advocates believe that separating the wastewater portion and asking more from properties with lots of hard-scaping (ie. parking lots) would create more incentives for property owners to use rain permeable surfacing and reduce incidents of flooding.

The City will also look into the feasibility of requiring all existing apartment buildings to provide air conditioned units or an air conditioned cool room in the building. This would reduce the current health impacts for many vulnerable residents on hot weather days.

Council also voted to endorse the call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Such an agreement would call on the Government of Canada to support an end to the expansion of new oil and gas production projects and begin to phase out fossil fuel production and move towards alternative sources of energy.

But for now, a reminder during the current Heat Alert to find cool places and to drink plenty of water. The City maintains an online map of air-conditioned resting spaces available as Emergency Cooling Centres during these periods including Civic Centres, Community Centres, splash pads and pools for anyone in need.