Days after cementing Peel’s environmentally destructive growth plan, staff report shows lack of action on climate change a ‘cause for concern’
For the second straight year, councillors at the Region of Peel have failed to operationalize the warnings of staff: that action on the Region’s climate change mitigation plan needs to be expedited if they wish to reach goals set in 2020 and limit the effects of climate change that will cause devastating damage to infrastructure and property.
The warning comes less than two weeks after councillors approved an official plan that opens up nearly 11,000 acres of farmland and greenspace for future development—severely compromising their commitment to climate change mitigation. It remains unclear how the Region intends to meet these targets with its new projected growth scenario which was supported by all of regional council save for Caledon Councillor Annette Groves.
On Thursday, councillors heard from Christine Tu, the director of the Office of Climate Change and Energy Management for the Region who made it clear that if Peel wants to accomplish its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 2010 levels, a rapid acceleration of work on necessary projects and investment to fund that work is required. This reduction only includes corporate emissions from the Region of Peel, not emissions from the wider Peel community.
“The planet is now on a dangerous trajectory of warming. The Region of Peel is not immune,” she said. “Act now, be bold.”
Tu’s presentation was accompanied by a report from Gary Kent, the Region’s chief financial officer and commissioner of corporate services, which outlined the significant gap between the actions the Region of Peel has been able to complete since the Climate Change Master Plan was approved in 2020 and where the Region needs to be in order to accomplish its stated goals.
“The scale of work remaining on actions ‘in progress’ along with a quarter of actions not yet initiated are causes for concern,” the report states. The words practically mirror that of a report delivered to councillors in April of last year.
Kent acknowledges that much of the foundational work outlined in the plan and identified as council priorities for this term had to be paused when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in 2020. This included work on a climate change financial strategy that is needed to finalize the potential costs of the 20 items in the plan and where the money could come from.
After two years of the plan, none of the 20 actions have been completed, 15 percent of them have not even begun, with the remaining listed as “in progress”. A key element of the plan is the implementation of energy retrofits at dozens of Region-owned facilities—the largest culprit of emissions for the corporation. To date, none of these have been completed and only three projects have made it to the early design phase.
A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is required if the Region of Peel wishes to meet its corporate climate change targets.
(Region of Peel)
“The redeployment of resources to the COVID-19 responses impacted even prioritized climate work, resulting in limited to no progress in 2021 for some projects,” the report states.
This lack of action is made even more concerning by the fact that much of the past reductions in greenhouse gas emissions achieved by the Region can not be attributed to climate action it has taken to date. The report explains that most of the existing GHG reductions the Region has observed—33 percent below 2010 levels—is a result of the phasing out of coal-fired power plants by the Province of Ontario under a policy almost two decades old.
Barring another drastic change like this, the responsibility for cutting the remaining GHGs to reach the Region’s target—the equivalent of approximately 17,000 tonnes of CO2—falls to the Region of Peel. To give an idea of how expensive such a reduction could be, the Region is currently pursuing $12 million in funding from the Canada Community Building Fund. The 14 projects this money could initiate would reduce Peel’s GHGs by the equivalent of 1,322 tonnes of CO2—only 8 percent of the 17,000 tonne reduction required.
“The message is sobering,” the report to council states.
Of the work completed so far, much of it relates to the policy framework that will form the basis for future action. This includes a net-zero emission policy for the construction of new buildings, a remote work first policy (allowing continued GHG reductions gained during the pandemic with Peel Region employees working from home) and an Electric Vehicle Charging Station Management Policy (to date, 23 charging stations have been installed at regional facilities, with a total of 80 planned by the end of 2022).
Staff are pushing councillors to apply the same urgency and action seen during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crisis.
“The strong leadership shown by the Region throughout the COVID-19 response has brought clarity to what can be achieved through bold action, and a similar response is now required to meet the urgency of the climate crisis,” the staff report states.
Councillor Carolyn Parrish stated that moving forward, it’s necessary for all of the Region’s decisions to be viewed through a “climate lens” in order to mitigate the future impacts of climate change.
“I’m a grandmother… I’m starting to think of great grandkids and the stuff I’ve been reading in the papers is very frightening,” she said.
“This is, I think, the most critical issue for younger generations today,” said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie. “It’s so vitally important that we act on the issues.”
Councillor Parrish has been a vocal advocate against the construction of Highway 413—advocacy work that is an essential piece of the Region’s climate plans, as the highway’s completion could undermine any GHG reductions the Region is able to achieve—but some of her words, and the words of her fellow council members, will ring hollow for many residents who watched as the same elected officials just approved Peel’s new urban boundary—despite the desperate efforts of ignored residents—which opened up nearly 11,000 acres of farmland and greenspace for future development. It’s unclear whether the addition of these lands and the impacts of this growth has been factored into Peel’s climate plans.
This future development will remove trees that store carbon, cover thousands of acres of carbon-capturing land with asphalt and cement, further warming the airshed, dramatically increase air pollution and erase features that mitigate the urban heat-island effect; while altering prime farmland that is not only necessary for food production, but can help mitigate flooding and provide vital habitat for several species at risk. The value these spaces provide is known as natural capital. This will soon be destroyed to accommodate the type of sprawling homes desired by the developers who bought up the land then lobbied elected officials to open it up for profit.
The destruction of these lands and the loss of the natural services that regulate our climate means Peel taxpayers will have to pay dearly down the road, for flood mitigation, to restore watershed and other ecologically beneficial features and to replace tens of thousands of destroyed trees. Previous studies have shown that these “natural climate solutions” will be vital to achieving any mitigation targets.
“Backing nature is the best way to adapt to and to slow climate change,” stated Inger Andersen, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme in a March press conference. “Nature can be our saviour, but only if we save it first.”
As of now, all these natural assets do not form part of Peel’s asset management plan—an inclusion that could attach a dollar figure to their true value and potentially make it more difficult for politicians to approve the destruction of wide swaths of greenspace. The Province has mandated the inclusion of natural assets into these plans by 2024. The Region plans to have an inventory of trees completed by 2023, but there is no mention of other natural assets in the report.
This same knowledge gap exists in how vulnerable Peel’s infrastructure is to the impacts of climate change. This is particularly concerning as a previous study has found the Region is warming at twice the rate of the global average, meaning these impacts could be felt in Peel sooner than other regions (a fact not mentioned in the report).
These impacts include extreme precipitation, extreme heat, increased freeze-thaw cycles that could wreak havoc on roads and other critical infrastructure, as well as public health impacts. Limited climate change health impacts is listed as one of the top priorities in Peel Public Health’s 2020-2029 strategic plan.
Impacts of climate change like flooding are already being observed across the Region of Peel. The cost of these disasters is projected to rise considerably over the next decade.
(Peel Regional Police)
“A changing climate will impact human health through increasing temperature-related morbidity and mortality; intensifying the harmful effects of poor air quality; increasing the risk of injury and loss of life from extreme weather; increasing illness through food and water contamination, as well as vector-borne disease (e.g. disease carried by mosquitoes and ticks); increasing stress and harming mental health; and displacing communities (e.g. due to flooding),” the Peel Public Health strategic plan states.
None of these impacts or risks have been fully costed by the Region of Peel.
“It is critical that the Region address these knowledge gaps expeditiously to help ensure that the approved level of service is not compromised, and that damage and loss costs do not inflate due to climate change,” the report states.
The consequences of destroying natural climate-regulating features by adding almost 11,000 acres to the urban boundary (encroaching on the protected Greenbelt) does not even factor all the carbon-emitting realities of low-density sprawl development. From the heating and cooling of large homes, the carbon needed to build all the homes and surrounding roads and highways to the emissions from millions of additional hours of driving time required to reach new developments, GHG increases will almost certainly outweigh other efforts by the Region to reduce its pollution.
An estimate from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office found that climate change will increase the cost to maintain public buildings and facilities in a state of good repair by $6 billion by the end of the next decade.
Funding this increase in costs is a challenge faced by municipalities across Canada. For the Region of Peel, its situation is compounded by four years of a PC government that has shown complete disregard for the environment and the climate crisis with GHG emissions increasing under Ford after years of consistent decline.
Funding the GHG reduction projects in Peel’s climate plan will not come cheap. According to the Region, early estimates suggested that to fully fund the plan would require between $300 million and $400 million, but “substantially more is expected once infrastructure adaptation costs are known,” the report explains.
“Most of this investment is still required but unaccounted for in current 10-year capital planning and budget forecasts.”
Email: [email protected]
COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you
Submit a correction about this story