TransformTO Could Make the City Look Very Different in 2050
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TransformTO Could Make the City Look Very Different in 2050

The plan for a low-carbon city can move Toronto into the future—if we commit to making it happen.

Why TransformTO?

TransformTO is a project of the City of Toronto’s environment and energy division and the Atmospheric Fund to look at strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city. TransformTO released two reports; the first on short-term plans to reach Toronto’s 2020 target of a 30 per cent reduction in emissions and the second on longer-term plans to reduce emissions 80 per cent by 2050.

It is projected that Toronto will have a 8.7 million tonne gap between its expected greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and low-carbon target if the city continues on its current path, according to the first TransformTO report [PDF] released in November 2016.

A City Staff Report [PDF]—the second TransformTO report [PDF]—released in April states that the city’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) dropped by 24 per cent, surpassing the 2012 goal of a six per cent reduction.

However, the city’s current pace is “insufficient” to achieve an 80 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.

The city needs to take bold action to transform urban systems, including transportation, buildings, energy and waste, the report says.

Nearly half of the city’s greenhouse emissions [PDF] in 2014 came from transportation and waste, 35 and 11 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, buildings accounted for 53 per cent.

City Hall

City Council is expected to be presented with the second TransformTO report for consideration next week, after it was deferred from Council meeting in May.

“As a city, we need to set ambitious goals to reduce the negative impacts of climate change and increase Toronto’s resilience so we can address the very real social and economic challenges of the 21st century,” Mayor John Tory said at a press conference Thursday.

“I am worried that some members of Council are going to cut up bits and pieces of the program and just implement a few of the recommendations that we have from the community and city staff,” former chair of the City’s subcommittee on climate change, Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) told Torontoist.

Council approved strategies outlined in the first TransformTO report in December 2016, including “supporting energy efficiency in buildings, raising the bar for new construction and community energy, advancing sustainable transportation planning, leading by example, and engaging and collaborating with stakeholders.”

“My main concern is that it’s a very broad plan, that no matter who is looking at it I think would agree it’s not possible to do everything at once,” Tory said.

But he said he is not going to judge that now. “All I am going to be supporting is the notion that we should take the elements of the plan and do something that the report itself doesn’t do, which is to sort of say, all right, for energy retrofitting what investment are you going to make and how much return are you going to get in terms of actual greenhouse gas emissions in what period of time,” he said.

“How fast can you do it, how much is it going to cost, and what difference is it going to make?”


A total operating budget request for 2018 is $6.7 million, with a projected increase of about $1.1 million in 2019, according to the second TransformTO report.

“The amount being requested is based on staff assessment of what resources are needed to scale up and accelerate key City programs that are helping Toronto residents and businesses shift to a low carbon lifestyle,” manager of policy and research for the City’s environment and energy division, Mark Bekkering said in and email.

A City Report [PDF] from December said “an incremental operating budget of $1.6 million gross and net would be required to be added to the 2017 Operating Budget” to “accelerate” GHG emission reductions and the implementation of the short-term strategies outlined in the first report [PDF].

Operating dollars would “improve the likelihood of leveraging capital from external sources, including provincial cap and trade proceeds and federal infrastructure monies,” the report said.

Perks requested an additional $1.22 million be put towards TransformTO during a Council meeting in February, but the motion failed 21-23.

Council approved $330,000 in operating budget for 2017 to “help secure additional financing to support climate action; support the delivery of the City’s Better Buildings Partnership programming to promote energy efficiency in buildings; and Smart Commute initiatives to City of Toronto staff.”

The funding was to implement the programs, which were identified as necessary to help achieve the goals of TransformTO, Bekkering said in an email.

“That critical issue of whether we fund the entire plan is the test of whether or not we will be in a position to achieve our goals,” Perks said.

In order to implement the strategies from the first TransformTO report, an estimated $320 to $866 million of capital investment is needed from all levels of government, federal, provincial, and municipal, as well as the private sector.

“The federal and provincial governments are going to have to do their part,” Perks said. “But most importantly, the way we designed it is to provide tools and incentives to help private businesses, homeowners, and tenants to contribute to the changes. As a government, we can’t do it alone. We need to have businesses and individuals participating in the plan and to do that we need to fully fund all of the programs that will create the incentives and supports that help just regular people contribute to the solution.”

A Low-Carbon City


The second TransformTO report is calling for 100 per cent of current buildings to be “retrofitted to the highest emission reduction technically feasible, on average 40 per cent energy performance improvement over 2017 levels, while limiting affordability impacts to residents, by 2050.”

Many people will live in apartments instead of houses, the report suggests. Meanwhile energy will be produced by commercial buildings with solar photovoltaic panels on roofs and façades, which the report says “will likely be connected to a low-carbon district energy system for heating and cooling buildings.”

“We’re a growing population and within the boundaries of City of Toronto, we’ve kind of reached the extent to which we can build low density,” Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) said.

Much of what the city will get are infill projects, Layton said.

“Some of that infill is going to be tall buildings, some of it might be not so tall buildings,” he said. “But it’s more than likely going to be in an apartment format, rather than a single-family home format.”

Some buildings can be retrofitted to even more than 40 per cent and others because of their age or design might only be retrofitted to 20 per cent, Bekkering said.

“The design of buildings in the future will have to incorporate technology that virtually reduces to zero the use of its non-renewable energy,” Bekkering said.

The “key message” the community needs to recognize is that about 80 per cent of the buildings that will be around in 2050 have probably already been constructed, and the city needs to ensure that those are being as energy efficient as possible, he said.

“Everything that we’ve modelled is technically feasible,” Bekkering said.

“All building energy-efficiency retrofit related capital costs for City-owned facilities will be funded through recoverable debt, and building retrofit programs will be aligned with existing state of good repair capital projects,” the report said.


People’s energy bills will be much less in the long-term, Perks said.

“Households in over 50 per cent of neighbourhoods will save between $375 and $500 per year for heating, cooling and electricity,” the report said.

Homes will use only 20 per cent of the energy they used in 2015, the report said.

Through the city’s pilot programs, Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) and High-rise Retrofit Improvement Support (HI-RIS), 125 single family homes and more than 1,000 apartment units have been retrofitted.


According to an April report [PDF] from TransformTO on the results of modelling greenhouse gas emissions to 2050, the low-carbon transition is estimated to result in “327,000 additional and direct person-years of employment between 2017 and 2050.” Most of them will be generated in “emerging sectors such as energy storage, decentralized energy generation and electric vehicle manufacturing.”

But not without changes, as the report states that “certain jobs will be made obsolete, such as vehicle mechanics who specialize in combustion engines.”


The second TransformTO report is calling for 95 per cent of waste is diverted in all sectors (residential, institutional, commercial and industrial) by 2050.

“Not all multi-unit residential buildings are on municipal pickup, meaning they don’t all have recycling and green-bin pickup,” Layton said. “A lot of that is still going to the landfill. We have to ensure all residential is diverting, including organic waste.”


The second TransformTO report is recommending that 100 per cent of transportation options use low- to zero-carbon energy sources. Currently, only 12 per cent of people walk or cycle to work in Toronto. Meanwhile, 66 per cent of people drive to work, and 22 per cent use public transit. But how people decide to move around Toronto could dramatically change with the implementation of TransformTO.

There is potential for only 32 per cent of people to travel to work by car, 28 per cent to cycle, and 17 per cent to walk in the future the report said.

“New subway lines” and “enhanced bus and train systems” are also expected to be in place when it comes to come to transit in the city.

Likewise, “affordable, shared electric vehicles” are also suggested to be “easily accessible for all ages” to accommodate travel and commute time that becomes lengthy by walking or cycling to get to your destination.

As of now, there are 20 City-owned electric vehicle charging stations in Toronto.


Perks said as the TransformTO plan is implemented, there will be regular reviews.

The second report recommends that there be two updates provided to Council on TransformTO during the four year term of Council.

The report recommends an update on key performance indicators in the second quarter of each new term of Council, which includes “City-wide GHG emissions as measured by the City of Toronto GHG Inventory; Co-benefits of low-carbon actions (indicators to be presented in first four year implementation plan update); Public engagement (number of organizations/individuals engaged and their level of engagement); and Amount of financial and other resources mobilized in support of low carbon action in Toronto.”

That update should also include details on the “progress towards the city’s low-carbon leadership goals, and revisions and additions to the short-term strategies, and the implementation plan for that term of Council.”

The report also says that Council will be get a status update on “key performance indicators” in the third year of its term.

“It’s important to remember this plan relies only on proven, existing technologies,” Perks said.

But as technological developments energy efficiency progress, the City will be “flexible enough” to adapt to the changes in technology, he said.