Region of Peel staff propose $40 million in 2023 budget to confront climate emergency
In April 2022, Region of Peel councillors voted to approve the Official Plan to 2051, which included an expansion of the urban boundary into nearly 11,000 acres of farmland. The move came with backlash from activists and the public upset over the destruction of agricultural land and ecologically sensitive greenspaces. Two weeks later, staff published a report warning councillors they were failing to support their own commitments to confront climate change.
The report provided an update on Peel’s Climate Change Master Plan and made clear that elected officials have said one thing about environmental protection, while their actions have often contradicted those words.
In 2019, the Region declared a climate emergency which led to the creation of the master plan. After two years, none of its 20 actions had been completed and 15 percent had not even been started.
“The scale of work remaining on actions ‘in progress’ along with a quarter of actions not yet initiated are causes for concern,” the report stated. The warning was synonymous with a staff report that made the same critical point a year earlier.
But there was a message of hope as well.
“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,” staff wrote in the report.
It identified a need to work toward the Region’s emissions targets: 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030. In the most recent inventory, which occurred in 2020, corporate greenhouse gas emissions across the Region were 32 percent below 2010 levels. However, the report noted the majority of that decrease stemmed from the phasing out of coal fired electricity generation, a result of the provincial Liberal government of the day, which ended the use of coal for power. Other decreases in emissions were seen in 2020 and, likely, in 2021 due to the pandemic.
Otherwise, the Region has not lived up to its emissions reductions commitments and will find itself hard-pressed to reach its 2030 goal without a shift in funding priorities.
It seems regional councillors are starting to pay attention.
The proposed 2023 Regional budget includes initiatives to combat the causes and effects of climate change with a focus on the two biggest areas of concern: buildings and transportation.
In the budget documents introduction, the Region’s Chief Financial Officer, Gary Kent, lays out priorities “seen as critically urgent: The elimination of systemic discrimination; Climate change as a Regionally declared emergency; Housing affordability; Public health and safety; and The transformation of the world to ‘digital first’.”
To help with the second priority the budget document advises an initial investment of $300 million to $400 million is needed to reduce corporate greenhouse gas emissions across the Region. More will be required once infrastructure adaptation costs are known.
This year, staff have recommended $40 million in capital investments to directly deal with the impacts of the climate emergency. According to the budget documents, 95 percent of the $40 million will help reduce emissions from buildings.
In Mississauga, 52 percent of the city's community emissions come from buildings, making them the largest source of municipal emissions.
The emissions from buildings in the Region of Peel have remained steady since 2016. Efforts for more sustainable and affordable housing measures will help decrease carbon pollution.
(Region of Peel)
Peel Housing Corporation (PHC) is responsible for the administration of the Region’s public housing which contributes 16 percent of Peel’s emissions. PHC has forecasted it will need $720 million over the next 10 years for State of Good Repair work, such as “building plumbing supply systems and sprinkler systems, restoring building facades and roof assemblies, replacing major heating and ventilation equipment, correct existing hazards for site structures including roadways, sidewalks and underground parking garages,” according to the budget report.
PHC made a request for $70.8 million in 2023 to begin funding State of Good Repair work while $12.2 million will be part of the Low Carbon Project Support program.
“Through investigative work, the projects and buildings are selected where there is opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Regional staff wrote. “These projects are aligned with State Of Good Repair work such as building heating and domestic water systems, ventilations systems and exterior cladding.”
The budget also states previously approved housing capital projects that have yet to progress past the design phase will be reviewed and, where feasible, climate change investments will be added. Most of the funding for these advancements comes from capital reserves but external funding avenues have also been explored.
Between 2018 and 2021, the number of development applications received by the Region has increased by 63 percent—with a shift in the types of applications, away from single and semi-detached dwellings and toward townhouses and apartments. At the end of June 2022, there were 58,940 residential units in the developmental approvals process. Seventy-three percent were apartment units located mainly in Mississauga and Brampton. This shift is representative of a push for more affordable housing with dramatically rising house prices as well as the desire for more complete, walkable and transit oriented communities in denser built forms.
To do this, the Region has put forward $26 million for new affordable housing projects and existing projects which will undergo redevelopment and expansion. The budget recognizes the currency turbulent fiscal times, describing 2022 as the year of polycrises, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, steeply rising borrowing rates, climate change and the unmanageable cost of living.
In developing the 2023 budget, staff reviewed all of the significant capital projects that could be modified to add a component related to climate change (costs for the climate change component were estimated to be approximately ten percent of the total project cost).
“Climate change investments aren’t necessarily appropriate for all capital projects,” a spokesperson told The Pointer in an email. “Peel has developed a Net Zero Emissions standard and policy for new builds, and we are still working on a standard for building retrofits and another standard for climate adaptation and resiliency.”
Staff explained that a large portion of the capital budget is dedicated toward road infrastructure which does not have significant greenhouse gas reductions opportunities. However, well maintained and designed infrastructure can reduce congestion on roads, limiting carbon emissions.
The Region of Peel is advancing uptake of electric vehicles by focussing on building the necessary charging infrastructure.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Transportation is the second largest component of the tax supported budget and is a sector where significant progress can be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The budget invests $2.2 million for two key transportation projects. The first is the beginning of a Zero Emission Waste Collection Vehicle Pilot. Currently, waste collection vehicles are required to use compressed natural gas as fuel which creates less emissions than diesel engines. However, natural gas, contrary to its name, is not a clean fuel source.
“The purpose of the Zero Emission (ZE) Waste Collection Vehicle Pilot project is to test the operational and environmental performance of zero emission, electric waste collection trucks in comparison to the compressed natural gas vehicles currently being used,” the budget document explains. “If the pilot is successful, ZE vehicles could be specified in Peel's next waste collection contract, which could contribute to the achievement of Peel's greenhouse gas emission targets.”
The second climate focussed transportation project is an investment into the infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs). EVs pose a chicken and an egg scenario in which consumers are skeptical of uptake due to a lack of available charging infrastructure, while the build out of this necessary infrastructure requires uptake in EV sales.
In June 2022, Peel’s Climate Change Partnership (PCCP), which includes the Town of Caledon, City of Brampton, City of Mississauga, Region of Peel, Credit Valley Conservation and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, published the Region’s first zero emissions vehicle strategy with the goal of increasing EV uptake among residents and businesses. One of the major elements of the strategy was acquiring funding for the necessary charging infrastructure.
When Premier Doug Ford was first elected in 2018, he scrapped EV subsidies as well as provisions in the Building Code which made requirements for EV charging infrastructure including in new homes. This left much of the onus of building charging infrastructure on municipalities.
While the budget does not make any specific investments into charging infrastructure for individual homeowners, there is a proposed $2 million for the installation of electric charging infrastructure at various Public Works Facilities for fleet vehicles. This would help transform the Region’s fleet and reduce transportation emissions.
While the Region highlights $40 million proposed to directly address the climate emergency, this accounts for less than 10 percent of the $449.3 million proposed capital budget, but there are initiatives in other sectors that can be considered mitigation and adaptation measures.
Air pollution that leads to respiratory problems, the increase of vector borne conditions such as lyme disease and injuries resulting from natural disasters or extreme weather all put a strain on the healthcare system. There are no specific initiatives within the 2023 budget to address climate-related impacts on the healthcare sector but funding for public health, which is a regional responsibility, includes the priority of “reducing health-related impacts of climate change”, which could contribute to adaptation measures.
Emergency Management which handles relief after a natural disaster could also be considered an adaptation investment.
Other initiatives proposed in the budget that relate to climate change include the implementation of a Sustainable Transit Strategy and other plans related to active transportation, closing the knowledge and implementation gaps for assessing climate risks and informing emergency preparedness.
The 2023 Budget also includes a $300,000 increase in the operating budget to invest in new roles that are expected to embed and integrate climate action. The first position is for an Adaptation Advisor who will contribute to the reduction in the knowledge and implementation gaps.
“Climate adaptation is an urgent but emerging practice requiring expert knowledge to strategically and efficiently guide how the Region adapts its $36 billion worth of infrastructure,” the recommendation from staff says. “Consistency in adaptation strategies, clear prioritization metrics and strong internal collaboration builds confidence and strengthens decision making.”
The Advisor will have subject matter expertise on resiliency investment and limiting escalating risk exposure.
The second position is a Climate Change Specialist responsible for acting as a point of contact for the growing climate network. The Specialist will also provide “subject matter expertise and research skills to respond to a larger volume of evolving climate legislation, translate implications of new practices and complete grant applications.”
If the budget is approved, the two full-time positions will be created.
The Region will use these positions to support the development of a capital financing strategy to support its Climate Change Master Plan which will come to council in 2023.
Email: [email protected]
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