Toronto developers and major property owners are taking a wait-and-see approach to Mayor John Tory’s call for a new, beefed up attack on climate change.
The mayor unveiled his new “Green Ways Initiative” on Oct. 2, just before city council voted unanimously to declare a “climate emergency” in the city. The term emergency is being adopted by municipalities and senior governments in Canada and around the world as a way to put greater emphasis on addressing climate change through urban planning, transportation and infrastructure moves.
So far, Oxford Properties and Cadillac Fairview pledged to work with the city to support the initiative, by reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. They have been joined by Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto Community Housing and the University Health Network.
Participants so far control some 300 million square feet of space in Toronto. A 2017 study found that more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto come from homes and other buildings, mainly from natural gas used to heat indoor areas and water. The new initiative pledges the city to become carbon neutral by 2050 — which climate experts consider a necessary but ambitious goal.
The new initiative also calls for city staff to report recommendations next year aimed at speeding up that deadline to 2040.
Despite the ambitiousness of the measures, property companies surveyed either declined to comment on the initiative or said they are waiting for more detail. Those who responded stressed that they already take climate change seriously and are taking measures to mitigate or adapt to its effects.
“The details of the new program are not known. This is too early to comment on,” says Leona Savoie, vice president of development for Hullmark, which holds properties in Liberty Village, Downtown East, the Beach and other central areas. Many of Hullmark’s properties are heritage buildings that will be a challenge to retrofit because of their age, size and infrastructure.
“The benchmarking that they [City Council] are talking about is already mandated by the Ontario Energy Board for large buildings and at some point it will be rolled out to smaller buildings akin to what we own,” she said, adding that energy experts and the board are aware of the difficulties that will be faced by older, smaller, heritage buildings.
Other major property companies in Toronto declined to comment on the new green initiative.
The mayor’s and council’s call for more aggressive action comes after millions of people, including large crowds in Toronto, skipped school and took off work to demand more action to address climate change. On Oct. 7, climate activists in Toronto and other Canadian cities followed up with morning protests on major bridges. The Toronto activists temporarily blocked the Bloor Viaduct with large signs saying, “Act Now.”