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Toronto’s COVID-19 recovery must address the climate crisis

Recovery plan should accelerate transition to zero-carbon city, write activists

 JUL 27, 2020 BY MICHAEL POLANYI  

Published in TORONTO.COM

Michael Polanyi

Michael Polanyi is a climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Recent extreme heat, drought and flooding in Toronto and southern Ontario are stark reminders that we must not forget the mounting climate crisis as we forge a recovery from COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has hurt people who have the fewest options to protect themselves — those who are homeless or underhoused, people living in long-term care, and front-line service workers who lack the option of working at home. In Toronto, these tend to be Black, Indigenous, racialized, low-income people, and the elderly.

Extreme heat — and other climate impacts — pose a major threat to these same populations. 

Both COVID-19 — and the climate crisis — challenge us to model a recovery plan that addresses deep-seated inequities and improves the health and well-being of all Toronto residents. 

Mayors around the world are rebuilding and reimagining their cities. Paris is installing 650 kilometres of new bike lanes. Seattle is banning tenant evictions for six months. Berlin is expanding access to urban food gardens to 50,000 residents. Milan is planting 3 million trees. 

Torontonians see some signs of hope that the recovery from COVID-19 will bring positive change here, too.

In May, Mayor John Tory joined other large-city Mayors in signing the C40 Cities COVID-19 Recovery declaration, committing to address the climate crisis, and “do everything in our power … to ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 is healthy, equitable and sustainable.” 

Also in May, the new Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild was mandated to include climate change and resilience in its recommendations this fall to City Council. Council also agreed to quickly complete the long-debated, 15-km Bloor-Danforth bike lane, and this month Mayor Tory indicated his support for fast-tracked construction of at least two of five proposed bus express lanes (on Eglinton East and Jane).

Now, the City needs to build on these important first steps by ensuring its COVID-19 recovery plan accelerates the transition to an equitable and resilient zero-carbon city.

We believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to forge an economic recovery that also reduces inequity and protects us from future climate shocks. 

Alongside member groups of the Toronto Climate Action Network, we are calling on Mayor Tory and city council to implement — with support from provincial and federal governments — the following cost-effective actions to kick-start a fair and sustainable economic recovery:

● launch a low-carbon jobs strategy focused on training and hiring equity-seeking groups including racialized youth; 

● ramp up energy efficiency retrofits of multi-residential buildings to reduce emissions, improve living conditions and create new jobs;

● expand green space, tree cover, and green roofs, especially in neighbourhoods most vulnerable to extreme weather;

● expand community-based gardens and food programs; 

● provide safe transit options by ensuring accessible and equitable transit service, protected bike lanes, and expanded Bike Share rentals;

● strengthen resilience and emergency preparedness by supporting neighbourhood-based hubs and resident networks. 

Our city will no doubt experience more harsh shocks in the future, whether from climate change or pandemics. Now is the time to build a more equitable and sustainable city that prepares us for what lies ahead.

Michael Polanyi, a climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance (michael@torontoenvironment.org), wrote this with Lyn Adamson, co-chair of ClimateFast (lyn@climatefast.ca); and Madelyn Webb, director of community engagement at CREW Toronto (thecrew@crewtoronto.ca).

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