On April 29th, IDI’s Service Learning interns from the Urban Studies program at Innis College, University of Toronto hosted their keynote and panel discussion, which they had organized for three months. The theme of the discussion was how Toronto businesses interacted with environmentalism, as well as the interplay between green policies and businesses.
Rizwan Khan and Barbora Grochalova of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), gave the opening keynote. Mr. Khan explained that CELA was a speciality legal aide clinic with a mandate to help low income individuals, community groups, and environmental NGOs.
The government of Ontario visualizes the challenges of climate change, he said, within the lens of failure—what will happen if we fail to mitigate and adapt to climate change? As an additional challenge, there is a belief that even trying to address climate change will have a negative impact on economic growth. From 2009 to 2014, Ontario shut down all their coal-powered power plants, which showed a significant dip in Green House Gas (GHG) emission, but not one in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This hurdle is not as big as many people think, Mr. Khan explained. “We do not have to lose economic growth because we address climate change,” he said.
The largest emitters of GHGs in 1990 were the industrial sector, transportation, and large buildings. Within the current legal framework this is addressed through the 2009 Green Economy Act (GEA), which created the Green Energy Act and amended a number of prior acts. This included requiring home electronics to be energy efficient; allowing homeowners to feed into the energy grid and receiving some payment for renewable energy; set new rules for provincial land planning that could not be contravene by municipal planning. Missing from this though, was the need to address transportation with numbers that have risen since 1990.
Ms. Grochalova spoke of next steps. The acknowledgement of the need to transition into a decarbonized economy is there, but now the debate rests with how we achieve this. Ontario’s targets of reducing carbon emissions is 15 percent by 2020 (for which it is not on track), 37 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.
Bill 172 (Climate change mitigation and low-carbon economy, 2016), which is still in committee, was proposed to address this. It would introduce the idea of carbon taxing, to provide information to consumer’s for the carbon footprint of a product. The other aspect of this bill is Cap and Trade.
The idea with Cap and Trade is to have a hard cap for the province of Ontario, in which if a smaller polluter had emissions allowance (GHG emissions per tonnes) left, they could sell it off to a higher polluter. The logic behind this is to prevent polluters from going above the hard cap of GHG emissions per tonnes, because then they would have to essentially pay to pollute.
Within Toronto, there are only about 150 large enough polluters (over 25 000 tonnes of CO2) that would participate in this Cap and Trade program. These include power plants, but also some university campuses, among others. Therefore the impact on the city of Toronto will not be unmanageable. Rising energy cost will be the biggest signifier.
This is a video from the Government of Ontario explaining its Cap and Trade: https://youtu.be/MbUwhIROLek.
To evaluate the Bill, Ms. Grochalova asks two questions: is it effective and is it fair? In terms of effectiveness, she explained that we need to recognize the urgency of climate change. Many smaller island nations at the Paris climate conference (COP21) used the slogan “1.5 to Stay Alive” to highlight the fact that if the global temperature rises 1.5 degrees, many of them will cease to exist.
For the world to have a two thirds chance of staying under 1.5 degrees, it gives us a carbon budget of four years to emit the way we are now, and then stop emitting altogether. At a 50 percent chance of staying within that 1.5 degrees, we have 9.8 years. Based on this, many of our policies are not effective. This includes the proposed Cap and Trade, which puts the price of emitting above the hard cap at $17 per tonnes. Some researchers have proposed that there won’t be significant change at prices below $100–$200. Additionally, there are too many allowances at the moment for it to be an effective tool in curbing carbon emission.
In terms of fairness, the ones who have been and will be most affected by climate change are those with limited or no means to find ways to mitigate the real consequences of climate change. Low income people do not have significantly high emissions of GHG, but they are disproportionately affected by climate change and by policies designed to mitigate it. Environmental damage may affect them more severely, and the higher cost of energy and food will also have a greater effect. Ms. Grochalova explained that for these policies to be fair, there needs to be a legislated response that addresses this.
The panel discussion was moderated by University of Toronto Professor Douglas MacDonald. The discussants were Nicole Beayni who is the Project Officer for Race to Reduce, and Robert Bianchi who Director of Partnerships at MaRS’ Advanced Energy Centre.
Ms. Beayni described Civic Action as a non-profit organization that brings leaders together to address the challenges that the communities of Toronto and Hamilton face. In 2008, they co-carried out an environmental survey of the GTA and found that one of the largest emitters of GHGs were office buildings. There were 165 million square feet of GTA office space and it accounted for 20 percent of carbon emission in the GTA. They also learned that there was a lot more that building managers, owners, and tenants could do to lower their emissions.
The Commercial Building Energy Leadership Council was set up to identify some challenges and address them. It consisted of 50 volunteers from owners, to tenants, and government personnel. The barriers they identified were: 1) lack of good data and understanding of energy use; 2) the need for a better way to share best practices; 3) lack of information and pressure to use a business case to enact change; and 4) not enough effective communication between landlords and tenants.
Race to Reduce grew out of this in 2011. They set it up as an office challenge to work on reducing the collective energy consumption by 10 percent, from 2011 to 2014. The final numbers were reported in 2015. Over 600 landlords, 196 buildings, and 42 percent of the office spaces participated in the Race to Reduce. The collective reduction of these participants was 12.1 percent or 12 000 tonnes of GHGs. This saved them $13.7 million. It created a platform for different people involved in these office buildings to talk to each other, with Civic Action facilitating the initial conversation. They held an annual awards ceremony which provided further incentive. Businesses have also exported these practices to their regional offices and the competition is being replicated in other cities.
Mr. Bianchi spoke about the attempt of MaRS’ Discovery District to create an ecosystem of innovations. At MaRS, there are four core programs. The community energy consists of micro-grids (the Zibi Project), to bring different actors together in an attempt to become carbon neutral. One of the problems with reducing energy consumption is not knowing how much you consume, so the Green Button project was a way of delivering data and sharing it with third parties for further innovation. Utility transformation consists of bringing different people together to act towards a common goal, rather than acting individually and less efficiently. Finally MaRS puts Canadian corporations in touch with international contacts to share most efficient technologies.
He explained that the Advanced Energy Centre was leading the adoption of the Investor Confidence Project in the Canadian market to clearly highlight the financial benefits of bigger renovation projects—lightbulbs versus replacing all the the windows or furnace.
Mr. Bianchi also made the point that the summer of 2014 was the first year in many in which Toronto did not have a smog advisory. This was likely due to Ontario closing its coal power plants. He pointed out that Toronto is seen as a global leader in climate leadership as it has reduced its GHG emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels. It also uses a deep lake water system that cools the buildings, rather than using conventional energy.
About the theme:
The symposium will focus on the ways that Toronto's businesses can be more environmentally conscientious. We would like to look at the corporate impact on climate change and how we, as a city, can adapt to minimize our impact on the environment. Since 2009 extreme weather events, including rainfall, ice storms and snowstorms have resulted in losses over $1 billion, so an effort on trying to limit our effect on climate change will benefit all levels of society. Current actions taken by provincial and municipal governments support the mitigation of greenhouse gases, but fail to identify climate change risks at various scales. We would like you to be part of this discussion to improve Toronto’s image as a leading green city and to take an important, albeit small step in addressing the problem of climate change. We are interested in exploring initiatives that Toronto businesses have been a part of to limit their economic footprint; both from businesses that are not in the environmental sector, as well as things like green startups within this sector. Finally we would like to invite those in the academic fields to provide a framework and possible analyses of how well these projects have found success or will need to be improved.
Some questions we would like to explore: