The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is in better environmental shape now than it has been in recent years, though the region needs to make substantial improvements to get to where it needs to be, says The Living City Report Card, released by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and CivicAction’s Greening Greater Toronto.
According to the Report Card, we are breathing cleaner air, using less water, and recycling more of the waste from our homes since Greening Greater Toronto’s 2008 report and TRCA’s most recent watershed report cards. But we’re struggling to manage stormwater and commercial waste, control sprawl and traffic congestion, and to protect our forests and wetlands. Conditions are also worsening for the number of plants and animal species and their distribution across the region.
The Report Card is the most in-depth analysis of the environment and the activities that drive environmental health of any Canadian city region. It is an independent assessment of carbon emissions, air and water, waste management, land use, and biodiversity, and reflects collaboration and insights from leaders across the GTA (the City of Toronto and the Regional Municipalities of Durham, Halton, Peel and York). It is the next in a series of periodic assessments of the GTA’s environmental performance, provides a yardstick to check against and delivers an ongoing call for action to ensure that our region flourishes.
“We can all play a part in building a healthy city region,” said Brian Denney, CAO, Toronto and Region Conservation. “This Report Card will guide all city builders in the GTA – governments, businesses, community organizations, and residents – in making smart choices that generate green jobs, economic activity and better environmental and personal health.”
Some of the recent progress can be traced back to less activity during the recession. When our economy recovers, and as population growth continues, we risk reversing these environmental gains unless we build our region more sustainably, the Report Card warns.
“While we celebrate our collective progress, our challenge is to seize the opportunities that will come with our region’s growth and to protect the health of our residents and natural ecosystems,” said Julia Deans, CEO, CivicAction. “We need to make the right decisions now to ensure that our region is a healthy and flourishing place to live, work and invest in the long term.”
Successes: Since 2005, air quality has improved and carbon emissions have declined, with a 44 per cent decrease in sulphur dioxide emissions and 46 per cent decrease in carbon emissions from electricity. Further reductions are expected as Ontario continues to phase out coal-powered electricity from the provincial grid by 2014. The region enjoys public greenspace on par with the national average of eight hectares per 1,000 people.
GTA residents diverted 50 per cent of their waste in 2009, up from 39 per cent in 2006. Electricity consumption is down five per cent from 2005 levels, thanks to conservation efforts by residents, business and government but also partly due to there having been less activity during the recession. Water departments have implemented programs that have resulted in a nine per cent decline in per capita water consumption from 2006 to 2009.
Challenges: Much of the GTA’s growth has occurred in low-density suburban areas. Planning and investment in public transit have not kept pace. Chronic gridlock has become a fact of life, and the human and economic toll is significant.
Our natural ecosystem provides economic, social and human health benefits that are under significant threat, with continued flood risks to people and property, loss of forests and 63 per cent of plant and animal species are vulnerable due to their small numbers and poor distribution across the region. Stormwater controls exist in only 23 per cent of the urban areas within the TRCA’s jurisdiction (which covers the City of Toronto and parts of Durham, Peel and York). Stormwater run-off is the single greatest factor affecting water quality and the health of our rivers.
Over 60 per cent of the GTA’s waste comes from commercial sources, yet very little data exists on how much is diverted from landfill. We lack the capacity to process all of the waste we do divert.
The Report Card assesses the current condition and recent progress of 19 indicators, assigns five-year and long-term targets that will get us to a healthy state (based on local or national targets where they exist or on expert opinion and global benchmarks), and assigns a letter grade to show how far we need to go to reach our long-term target. It highlights examples of leadership and opportunities for action by the private, public and not-for-profit sectors and residents across the Toronto region. Opportunities include:
- Energy – better manage demand and increase use of cleaner energy alternatives;
- Transportation – increase use of alternative fuels and electric vehicles, and invest more rapidly and extensively in public transportation;
- Water – implement stormwater management programs;
- Non-residential Waste – collect comprehensive data on commercial waste, and expand reduction and diversion programs;
- Land Use – create and support development standards that promote intensification;
- Natural Vegetation Cover – secure and improve natural, undeveloped areas and restore urban forests.
The data and information contained in the Report Card were compiled and analyzed by scientists and other experts at municipal, provincial and federal government offices, at several organizations including TRCA, CivicAction’s Greening Greater Toronto, Planscape, Sustainable Prosperity, The Martin Prosperity Institute, and University of Toronto, and by in-kind contributors at The Boston Consulting Group.
To download the full report, visit www.thelivingcity.org.