Allie Rougeot is Toronto coordinator for Fridays for Future. Lyn Adamson is co-chair of ClimateFast. Tzeporah Berman is chair of the Global Campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Days after people across the Greater Toronto Area watched a “heat dome” scorch much of western Canada and burn Lytton, British Columbia to the ground, Toronto City Council has a unique opportunity to help turn down the heat.
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By supporting Councillors Mike Layton’s and Shelley Carroll’s motion this week to endorse a global Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, our elected representatives can get at the root cause of a rolling emergency that Toronto is wholly unprepared to confront in its own back yard.
The heat dome brought an insufferable wave of oppressive temperatures, with consequences that were immediate and severe. In western Canada alone, an estimated 700 people died, hundreds of wildfires burned, and a billion marine animals perished. Scientists say such an extreme heat event would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.
The reports of the heat dome, pictures of the fires, and stories of First Nations firefighters working to save their neighbours and their communities—all make it clear that the climate emergency is not a distant threat. It is happening now.
While Toronto dodged the extreme heat in June, there is major cause for alarm. We’re expected to see the fourth-largest climate shift among the world’s major cities. Fortunately, the city has kicked into action, declaring a climate emergency and adopting an ambitious climate action plan, Transform TO, in 2019.
Unfortunately, Canadian cities’ efforts to cut climate pollution and increase resilience to extreme weather are being undermined by higher levels of government in Canada and around the world that refuse to address the main source of the problem: oil, gas and coal production.
Countries’ pledge to limit global warming to 1.5°C was a centrepiece of the 2015 Paris Agreement. But years later, emissions are still rising, and fossil fuel companies are expanding production – with governments’ permission and lavish subsidies. That’s a sure ticket to more heat waves, droughts, flooding, and extreme weather events, with more lives and livelihoods lost and more collapsed ecosystems. The impacts will fall ever more harshly on those already suffering under systemic inequities—racialized communities, First Nations, people on low incomes, people experiencing poverty and homelessness, youth and future generations.
So we need to reduce production of oil, gas and coal. Not in 2030 or by 2050. Now.
To meet the Paris goals, fossil fuel expansion must end and production must wind down. But no country can do it alone. That’s why more than 1,400 scientists, city governments, and 101 of the world’s Nobel Laureates have joined the call for international cooperation through a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In endorsing the initiative and asking the federal government to do the same, Toronto would join Vancouver, Barcelona, Los Angeles and many others, including an ex-coal mining community in the UK.
When countries around the world came together to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, cities played an integral role in banding together and urging nations to act. Today’s expansion of oil, gas and coal is the greatest threat we face, and cities again have a role to play in compelling the bold action we need. We have the technology at scale to replace most uses of fossil fuels with renewable energy and energy efficiency, often at less cost than burning fossil fuels. It’s time to get on with it.
When you’re in an emergency, you have to act like it. Toronto City Council can build on its climate leadership by endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty the motion comes to the floor July 14. Together we can act to ensure a safe future, for today’s youth and for generations to come.
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