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Toronto Cuts Climate Funding, Delays Long-Term Emissions Plan as Pandemic Strains Finances

Toronto city council decided last week to delay planning activities and reduce funding for its TranformTO climate plan, ignoring warnings that the climate crisis and the community’s own environmental targets will make it tough to make up the lost time.

“If it’s a climate emergency, then it’s got to be prioritized,” said ClimateFast co-chair Lyn Adamson. “We can’t afford to lose a year, lose two years. We have to act now.”

The city cut funding to its environment and energy division to C$11.8 million this year, from the $14.4 million it had projected pre-pandemic, CBC reports. Council also delayed work on a detailed GHG reduction strategy, while reiterating a past commitment to apply a climate lens to all capital projects and future operating budgets.

The cutbacks “come as the city grapples with historic strain on its finances brought on by the pandemic,” CBC says. “But critics say the city must do more to keep up with the climate targets it has already declared, despite the financial impact of COVID-19. Toronto has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% [from 1990 levels] by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Toronto Environmental Alliance Executive Director Emmay Mah noted that financial restraint didn’t stop councillors from allocating $2 billion for work on a portion of the Gardiner Expressway.

“Unfortunately, I think what we’re seeing is a bit of a disconnect,” and “where that disconnect seems to be coming is in funding levels,” Mah said. “If we’re perpetually behind and we’re never actually catching up to the concrete realization of commitments, then that’s not very promising for staying on track for the city’s 2030 target.”

Scarborough-Rouge Park Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, chair of the city’s infrastructure and environment committee, pointed to $611 million the city had still earmarked for major climate projects. “We’re starting to transform the way that we’re doing climate change and resilience work across the city,” she said, citing net-zero construction planning for new community centres, stormwater management upgrades, and a “holistic” approach to climate planning.

Long-term planning for net-zero emissions was delayed after staff had to be redeployed to address the pandemic, CBC writes. McKelvie said she expects that work to resume this year.

But Mah “warned that a report that arrives toward the end of 2021 may not give the city enough time to incorporate the plan even in the 2022 budget,” the national broadcaster says. “By then, the city could be wasting valuable time in its pursuit of the 2030 reduction target.”

“What we really want to see moving forward is a catch-up on these climate commitments and a look at how we integrate climate action into the recovery process,” she said.