October 17, 2005

Climate change hits home as Toronto slips a grade on 2005 Smog Report Card

Describing 2005 as "the year climate change hit home," the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) has assigned Toronto a grade of C- on its eighth annual Smog Report Card, down from last year's B+.

The city received high marks for greening its fleet of vehicles and pressing other levels of government for air quality action, but has fallen behind in implementing a number of important programs addressing energy efficiency improvements, getting its own energy from green sources like wind and solar power, improving public transit, and making Toronto more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. Toronto has also been slow to fulfill a longstanding commitment to develop a comprehensive Air Quality Strategy.

The TEA bases its grading on an evaluation of the municipal government's actions to fulfill clean air commitments in six key areas, not on the state of Toronto's air quality. That is good news, in view of the fact that record-breaking summer temperatures and energy demand combined to give the city a record number of smog advisory days: as of October 6, 2005, the Ministry of Environment had issued 15 advisories spanning a total of 53 days-nearly double the previous record of 27 days in 2002, when ten advisories were issued.

The TEA notes that Toronto is doing a better job of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the Ontario or federal governments: its GHG emissions are actually declining, whereas they are up 12% provincially and 24% federally. The city's push to increase energy efficiency stalled during 2005, however: the only significant new initiative this year was the acceleration of the switch to high-efficiency LED bulbs in traffic lights. Toronto has still not purchased any green power yet, although pilot projects are under way and the city should be demonstrating leadership in this area, says the report.

The Ontario government's plan to phase out coal-fired power plants calls for 500 megawatts of new power generation for downtown Toronto, and the city could work with the province to ensure this supply through a variety of green power options, it adds.

Toronto's draft Air Quality Management Strategy, five years in the making and finally brought forth early this year, focuses largely on data gathering and analysis, monitoring and evaluation. City council and the Toronto Board of Health have requested staff to develop new measures in 2006 and 2007, although the TEA is concerned that this may be no more than a "laundry list" of activities. Doing what is needed to meet clean air and climate change objectives will require a broader scope of actions in areas such as new building and retrofit codes, transportation and energy planning and service delivery, incentives and penalties, says the report.

On a positive note, Toronto's Green Fleet transition program, launched in 2004, is on its way to reducing emissions from city vehicles by 23% by 2007. The plan calls for 84% of the city's light-duty vehicle fleet to be replaced with alternatives such as natural gas or hybrid electric vehicles, and for the use of more than 20 million litres of biodiesel fuel. The city has over 150 alternative vehicles in service and in July purchased another 300,000 litres of biodiesel fuel. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is testing this fuel in 180 buses, with the test due to end in December.

The TEA commends the city for its success in securing added provincial and federal funding for transit and for starting work on an ambitious "Building a Transit City" plan. It notes, however, that transit fares were increased and the TTC behind schedule on its ridership growth strategy.

In addition, says the report, the city has a long way to go to become pedestrian-friendly, with a pedestrian safety plan not expected until 2007. Toronto's bicycle plan, introduced in 2001, is still faltering as well, with no new lanes or paths this year.

The 2005 Toronto Smog Report Card may be viewed on the TEA Web site, www.torontoenvironment.org. More information is available from Keith Stewart of the TEA, 416/596-0660, E-mail keith@torontoenvironment.org.

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