The Power of Cities to Tackle Climate Change
Public talk and discussion with David Miller
Swansea Town Hall, January 11, 2017
2017 promises to be rather industrious and fruitful for Green 13 and action on our goals. Our first event of the year was the best one in the recent history of many environmental movie screenings and talks - well worth all the commitment, time and energy spent planning and organizing it. There was a lot of excitement among our dedicated and hardworking volunteers when we realized that 150 (free) tickets were “sold out” on Eventbrite and that NOW magazine picked our event as one of the “big 3” for that week.
Wednesday evening happened to be a mild one, considering the season, maybe just as another reminder that a talk about climate change, and what the urban centres can do about it, is very much needed. So, there was a lot of hustle and bustle at the Swansea Town Hall during registration, but eventually, all 175 people who came out settled in the Rousseau Room, ready to listen attentively to what our guest, a sought after speaker, had to say about the topic.
Many know David Miller as our former, also greenest Mayor (2003-2010), and current President and CEO of WWF-Canada. Some may be aware that in 2008 and 2009, he chaired the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. But, David is also our neighbour and our former councillor, deeply connected to this community, be it through coaching his son’s soccer team or supporting Project Neutral. According to him, one of the reasons he decided to generously donate more than two hours of his time are his fond memories of this venue, Swansea Town Hall, the meaningful conversations held in it, and his appreciation of the local grassroots movement.
Passionate about environmental and social equity issues, David Miller conveyed his expertise and shared the richness of his experience in a calm, humble, approachable manner. We learned about many new initiatives in the world’s urban areas and were reminded about sustainability programs delivered in Toronto during his mayoral term.
David chaired the Jury Panel of the C40 Cities Awards, which honoured 11 cities at the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City this past December 2016.
C40 is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. It is a Mayors’ organization founded in 2005 by former London (UK) Mayor Livingston. Initially envisioned as the network of capitals, it actually became a coalition of the 20 largest cities from the Northern and as many from the Southern hemisphere, but it is still growing and accepting new members. The C40 is currently chaired by the Mayor of Paris, Ann Hidalgo, promisingly nicknamed a “fire-cracker” by our speaker.
According to Miller, the great thing about action on climate change in urban areas is that it is wanted by both - mayors and citizens - and at the same time creates tremendous opportunities for cities.
In 2009, the year when Miller chaired C40, our world became an “urban nation”, meaning that from that moment in history, more people lived in the cities than in rural areas. Also, the bulk of economic activities, roughly 60%, are now happening in cities, and, not surprisingly, this is where about 70% of global GHG emissions are emitted. With more frequent extreme weather occurrences which can result in emergencies, like flooding, huge infrastructure maintenance costs are associated with climate change* (see endnote).
As expected by common sense, and shown by research, the highest contributors to urban carbon emissions are heating and cooling of our buildings, production of electricity, and transportation. The beauty is, when these issues get addressed, the result is not only the emissions and costs reduction, but cities also become better places to live.
So, while New York City was able to reduce GHGs by 12% and Paris by 10%, they have also been working on social equity and poverty issues. Cape Town has been trying to reach its energy 2040 vision by using an energy modeling tool, while also intensifying city density. Addis Ababa has built the first LRT in Sub-Saharan Africa, paying special attention to its affordability, easy access and enhanced security (e.g. making sure that lines are built close to the hospitals so nurses can arrive at work and home safely). The project was funded by the Clean Development Mechanism.
All these programs also stimulate the creation of jobs, contrary to the greatest misconception that a low carbon economy must jeopardize them.
Talking about the sustainability programs from his era, our former Mayor reminded us that in the year 2007 City Council unanimously adopted Toronto's Climate Change Action Plan**(see endnote). The “Change is in the Air” strategy resulted in many progressive programs and initiatives, like Live Green Toronto, whose community animators served as catalysts when Green 13 was exploring local interest in establishing a community garden and farmers’ market.
In revisiting Transit City, another plan concerning climate action and social equity strategy, David shared not only the maps of the proposed light rail and bus rapid transit, but also his touching memories of very direct community engagement, namely his taking extremely long, early morning bus rides to be able to consult about the plans for the city transportation with the citizens who cannot afford to advocate for themselves.
In 2004 Toronto identified several priority neighbourhoods for revitalization investment, Regent Park being one of them. Again, David emphasized the process of community consultation which determined that residents were interested in staying in their (soon to become gentrified) neighbourhood and maintaining certain quality of life. This meant: retaining at least some lower cost housing, availability of grocery stores with affordable food, and reserving certain portion of the development jobs for the local youth, even though they had to be trained first. And, the City listened!
There is a lot to be learned from all the mentioned best practices of sustainable urban development, as well as from many other examples around the world and Canada. This inspires and leaves room for hope that our City, supported by the other levels of government, will make some wise decisions based on the recommendations of the TransformTO process, to lead “climate action for a healthy, equitable, prosperous Toronto”.
View the recording of David Miller's presentation: https://youtu.be/xs-zDR2nfxk
Green 13 would like to express our gratitude to:
- David Miller for the generous donation of his time, expertise and storytelling talent
- WWF Canada for co-ordination of event details
- Swansea Town Hall for providing the venue
- Betty Muir and Vincent Pang for recording the presentation; and to Vincent Pang for editing.
- SNAPD for documenting the event
- Zvonimir Zupancic for taking more photos
- All who promoted the event
- The full house and engaged audience
Topics not covered in the talk, added for reference:
*In August 2005, for instance, Toronto was severely impacted by a one-hour rainstorm that cost the City of Toronto $47 million in repairs to its infrastructure (including the washout and re-construction of Finch Avenue at Black Creek and damage to the trunk sewer in the Highland Creek valley) and cost the insurance industry $600 million in payments to clients for damages to personal property. The 2005 storm is one of many record weather events that have impacted Toronto over recent years. See video.
**GHG reduction targets set in this plan are still used by the recent City’s TransformTO initiative. This collaborative project’s goal is to engage the community in achieving an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, by establishing a long-term climate strategy that would update the existing Climate Change Action Plan.