Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

How fighting climate change will make cities like Toronto better places to live

Climate change rally participants march at Queen's Park Sunday in Toronto.
Climate change rally participants march at Queen's Park Sunday in Toronto.

Mayor John Tory is off to Paris this week to talk climate change with other mayors and a gaggle of very important people.

It’s all part of the United Nations’ COP21 hullabaloo that’s supposed to strengthen strategies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

It’s good he’s going.

Not just because addressing climate change is important to ensuring we don’t all get swept away by rising ocean tides. And not just because — whether they’re ready for it or not — the world’s cities are going to end up playing a key role in implementing the strategies dreamed up by world leaders.

It’s important because, in places like Toronto, the fight against climate change could actually be kind of awesome.

That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s not. Piles of evidence on the subject of reducing greenhouse gas emissions all point to urbanization and city building as part of the solution for climate change.

Last Thursday, I moderated a panel discussion put on by TransformTO, a City of Toronto initiative tasked with — no pressure — coming up with ideas on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. One of the panelists, University of Toronto professor Marianne Hatzopoulou, came armed with data showing household emissions across the GTA.

The conclusion? Households with the biggest carbon footprints are those way outside the downtown core. They’re the people who travel long distances to get anywhere. They’re the ones who have to drive — an activity that, according to city stats, makes up 41 per cent of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions.

To curb that, Toronto and other cities need to get serious about encouraging dense, urban living.

And that means infrastructure. It means effective, electric public transit capable of comfortably moving lots of people. It means bike lanes that are safe and welcoming, and streets designed so that pedestrians can move about without getting hit by cars at an alarming rate.

It means a housing strategy that sees affordable homes built in places that allow more people to get to work without driving.

It means green spaces. It means flood protection in the form of really nice parks. And it means trees. So many trees.

For a lot of us, this is all stuff we’ve been demanding for years anyway. But with climate change as a motivator, the conversation can shift. This is no longer about taking action to improve quality of life. It’s about taking action to ensure life itself.

With so much at stake, I’m glad Tory will be in Paris. And when he returns, I hope he’ll be ready to seriously talk about aggressive implementation of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The world needs it — and, done right, our city will be a better place because of it.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-11-30T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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