Ontario’s big cities are failing to reach their climate goals, but a lack of reporting makes it impossible to know by how much 
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Ontario’s big cities are failing to reach their climate goals, but a lack of reporting makes it impossible to know by how much 

As we move closer to 2030, the year many governments have set as the deadline to reach critical climate action targets, the reality of how far we are from these goals is drawing nearer.  

Despite assurance from the federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change that Canada is on track to meet its interim target of a 40 to 45 percent reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, five sobering audits from Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment Jerry DeMarco, released in November, show the opposite.

Using the government’s own data, DeMarco predicts there will be an approximately 50-megatonne gap between Canada’s actual emissions and its 2030 target. The Environment Commissioner criticized the Ministry for failing to instate expected emissions reductions or implementation deadlines for many of the 80 measures in the Climate Change Action Plan. 

DeMarco found the federal government was “overly optimistic” in the assumptions made in its modelling framework, failing to factor costs of climate change on the environment, the economy and the health of Canadians, and relying on technologies like carbon capture and storage which are yet to be widely available. 

Ontario is doing no better. Premier Doug Ford’s plans to reduce emissions reductions are terribly inadequate. Ford and his PC government have taken steps that will actually push Ontario in the opposite direction. In 2018, he scrapped the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act that had been enacted under former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. The Act committed the Province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Instead, the PCs replaced the former legislation with the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act which, while still serving the purpose of reducing emissions, does so to a much lesser degree. The targets are not nearly as aggressive, nor does it meet standards set by most jurisdictions around the world committed to emission reduction.

Under the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act the PCs set a target of 30 percent emissions reductions below 2005 levels by 2030. The Act falls short not only in reducing the percentage of emissions reductions, but also shortens the base year to 2005. Emissions levels in 2005 in Ontario were already 13 percent higher than in 1990. According to a lawsuit currently filed by seven youth challenging the government’s target, this change allows the release of an additional 200 megatonnes of carbon emissions by 2030. 

In 2020, Ontario’s emissions were 150 megatonnes, just six megatonnes shy of its 2030 target. But following the pandemic, emissions relapsed, increasing to near pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, an analysis by Greenpeace found that the Ontario government is heavily relying on federal regulations or federally funded programs to reduce its emission, instead of implementing its own plans and policies. 

In 2022, Ford quietly revised his climate change plan again. While maintaining the same emissions reduction target, he changed goals for things like electric vehicles, and carved out greater loopholes for energy production from fossil gas.

Given the continuous missteps of upper levels of government on meeting the climate change targets they set for themselves — the federal government has failed to meet a single one of the 10 climate plans it has had since 1990 — it is no surprise that municipalities are also struggling. But a new study from the University of Waterloo shows that without proper reporting metrics, it is impossible to know by how much.

Leah Feor, a PhD candidate in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo, is the lead author on a study published in the journal Environments, that analyzed the sustainability and climate change planning and reporting statistics of 38 upper tier and single tier Ontario municipalities. The study found that only seven municipalities published a stand-alone sustainability report on its website. Only two municipalities published a climate change report.

“We can't say with certainty that they're not meeting their goals, if we haven't seen the reporting,” Feor told The Pointer. “And when we think of climate action plans, especially when it's climate mitigation plans, what they're doing is they're measuring their GHG emissions. And those inventories are very laborious.”

The only regulation that requires any type of climate-related disclosures in Ontario requires public entities to create an energy conservation and demand management plan and report every five years on energies and emissions. But Feor said it is limited to the emissions from buildings owned by the entity and thus, when looking at something like a municipality as a whole, it does not paint a complete picture of their GHG emissions. 

“While it's fair to say that we don't have the information, I don't think, at least from my perspective, it is accurate to say that they're largely not meeting their role, because we don't have the information to say that,” she said. 

Amidst the death, anxiety, economic and social losses that came with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality of the crisis provided a silver lining for environmental responsibility. The latest Emissions Gap Report, published annually by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), showed the world saw a 4.7 percent reduction of emissions in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Anne Olhoff, chief scientific editor of the Emissions Gap Report said the reductions were no surprise given that large sectors of the global economy were shut down. The globe missed the opportunity to capitalize on the global health crisis to serve as a time to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Instead, emissions decreased marginally, and shot up rapidly post emergency health measures.

The same trends were captured locally. The 2022 Carbon Emissions Inventory, published by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF), reported that emissions across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) increased eight percent between 2020 and 2021, reaching 54 million tonnes. Toronto’s emissions alone increased 5.4 percent with the largest culprits being buildings and transportation. 

Bryan Purcell, vice president of policy and programs at TAF, previously told The Pointer that while an increase in emissions was expected following the pandemic, he did not expect them to bounce back with such velocity and to such a level, hoping instead that the region had learned from pandemic lessons like working from home and reducing transit.

“Every year that we don't get emissions moving downwards means that in order to reach our climate targets, we need even more ambitious action in the years ahead,” he said.


Emissions in both Toronto and the Region of Peel increased in 2022.

(The Atmospheric Fund)


The Region of Peel is responsible for the second largest chunk of Ontario’s emissions. In 2022, the Region emitted 11.3 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, accounting for 21 percent of emissions across the GTHA, and approximately seven percent of Ontario’s emissions.

In 2019, after declaring a climate emergency, the Region of Peel adopted its Climate Change Master Plan (CCMP) which set the overarching target of a 45 percent reduction in emissions 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, but the report noted that the majority of these reductions were a result of the full phase out of coal in Ontario in the early 2000s, and the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesperson for the Region told The Pointer in an email statement that staff are in the process of completing the 2023 Climate Change Master Plan Progress Report which will be presented to Council in June. In addition, in 2025, the Region will be updating its CCMP to take the goals and actions beyond 2030. 

The 2023 budget document for the Region predicts an initial investment of $300 million to $400 million is needed to reduce corporate greenhouse gas emissions — more funds will be needed once infrastructure adaptation costs are known. But last year, the Region only allocated $40 million of its $1.9 billion capital budget to the climate emergency, with the majority of funds being dedicated to retrofitting buildings — one of the highest sources of emissions across the province.

In its 2024 budget, the Region is allocating a mere $18.5 million of its own funds, while noting receipt of $24.5 million in grants to help mitigate and adapt to the climate emergency.

The lower tier municipalities that make up the Region of Peel are lackluster in their approaches. The City of Mississauga is progressing towards its target of a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. 

As of 2021, the City was less than halfway to its target.

But some of Mississauga’s other successes are rightfully celebrated as the City continues to put climate initiatives on the top of its agenda. An analysis of the City’s 2023 capital budget by The Pointer found that Mississauga is dedicating nearly $225 million towards climate mitigation and adaptation measures, amounting to 57 percent of the capital budget, an increase from the approximate $200 million, or 41 percent, allotted for similar initiatives in the 2022 budget. A press release from the City in December stated that 44 percent of the capital budget for 2024 would be for projects that address climate mitigation and adaptation.

As the City retired its Living Green Master Plan last year, with 90 percent of its actions completed or underway, it is tracking climate action through more than 17 specific plans and strategies falling under the overarching umbrella of the Climate Change Action Plan. Under the ten year tenure of former mayor Bonnie Crombie, the City successfully reduced transit emissions— nearly 60 percent of the MiWay fleet will be hybrid electric by the end of the year — denser communities focussed on active transportation, and adoption of innovative technologies for heating and cooling like the Lakeview District Energy project. 

In March, the City also reaffirmed its commitment to climate action in light of the “code red for humanity” report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The City’s biggest challenge is tackling emissions from buildings, which make up 52 percent of its GHG footprint. 

But when it comes to the Region as a whole, Mississauga’s efforts are often overtaken by Brampton’s failures. 

Mississauga’s sister city has a far weakened target to achieve a 30 percent reduction below 2016 emissions levels by 2030, 40 percent by 2040 and 80 percent by 2050. While the percentage decrease is very similar to Mississauga, emissions in 2016 were far greater than 1990. 

An analysis by The Pointer of the City’s 2022 budget found that only 13 percent of the $328 million capital budget was earmarked for climate initiatives. In comparison, 18 percent was allocated for a single road. 

Of the funding for climate initiatives, priorities remained vague. For example, $600,000 was set aside for the implementation of the City’s environmental master plan but there was no details of what that would look like.

The following year, it became evident that despite the lip service being paid to climate action in Brampton — Mayor Patrick Brown has repeatedly claimed the City’s transit system is innovative in its transition to electrified vehicles while in 2023 the City purchased 38 diesel buses — hardly any action under the mayor's leadership has been taken. In fact, since the election of Brown in 2018, spending on environmental initiatives and the master plans associated with natural heritage were cut from successive budgets as part of his refusal to fund such goals to keep costs down.


Brampton’s Etobicoke Creek Riverwalk Project is supposed to create adaptation infrastructure to prevent flooding in the City. But the badly delayed project illustrates the City’s failure to meet its climate goals.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Brampton has some big ticket items on its budget with the Etobicoke Creek Riverwalk project and the LRT tunnel. While both of these projects will have positive impacts for environmental initiatives, the money poured into these monster projects often overshadows smaller, but equally important initiatives.

The Brampton Grow Green Environmental Master Plan (EMP), the City’s first comprehensive strategy focusing on sustainability and reducing the municipality’s footprint on everything from greenhouse gas emissions, to water usage, land use and waste, was released in 2014, outlining ambitious goals for addressing a number of environmental concerns, by City Hall and the community.

But the plan’s first update in 2020 showed the City of Brampton failed to reach the majority of its goals, with only 3 of 20 on target; it omitted key details on what went wrong, and how far the City still has to go.

Climate change plans are relatively new for municipal governments, so there is not much time that can be reported on to establish a trend. We have the baseline number, but if we only started reporting in 2020, we are only three years along meaning it is hard to tell whether the trend is increasing or decreasing. While the uptake of developing plans is steadily increasing, reporting is staggering behind.

Sometimes these figures are available but they are buried within staff reports or smaller plans and are not easily found. While it was not within the scope of her current study, Feor said she recognizes the benefit in consolidation or standardization of reporting especially as a growing number of municipalities are under-resourced and understaffed. 

“Sometimes they're stretched thin,” she said. “So this idea of not having to report on five different plans can be really beneficial from a workload perspective.”

Feor said that accountability is a big part of reporting. Municipalities are accountable to their residents but there is also an invaluable learning experience for the municipality itself. 

“The internal benefit at the organization level for the municipality often becomes what they can learn from this information. And so I think it's really important to recognize that the measuring monitoring and reporting of sustainability and climate change information, which is not always quantitative or numeric, sometimes qualitative, is that not only does it help municipalities become more accountable to their constituents, it also serves as a really important decision making tool and a learning tool for the organization itself to improve its performance,” she said.

While Feor’s research did not include a case study of individual municipalities, she said she has noticed larger cities tend to have greater capacity and thus better reporting. Therefore, smaller municipalities may be able to look to their larger neighbours to see what works and what does not. Feor said this is where her research is taking her next; to be able to identify leaders of best practices and showcase examples that diverse municipalities can draw from.

This lack of reporting at the municipal level can have a domino effect. It creates a “data deficiency” or an absence of information for upper levels of government when they are trying to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Municipalities are all the pieces of the puzzle that make up the province. So if they don't have the information from the ground level, what information are they using to measure, monitor and report on their progress as a province?” she asked. This then impacts federal commitments as well. 

Since there is no leadership from the PCs on the reporting, Feor said we can expect to see a fragmented approach across municipalities, but at least some will do on their own what Ontario’s ruling party seems uninterested in doing.



Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

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