On September 27, climate and labour activists met on Zoom to talk about what’s at stake in the fight for climate action in light of the upcoming municipal election. The Demanding Climate Action Leadership event was hosted by Good Jobs For All, Toronto Community Benefits Network, Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), and Toronto & York Region Labour Council.

In 2021, the Toronto City Council released a statement highlighting steps to reach net zero emissions by 2040.

Emmay Mah, TEA’s executive director, facilitated the event. Keynote speaker Mike Layton, the outgoing city councillor for University—Rosedale, spoke about his outlook on climate action in the future, and what he thinks the municipal government can do to fight the climate crisis in its next term. Layton confirmed that he is not running for re-election and plans to dedicate more time to climate action. 

Layton focused his remarks on key steps that the city government can take to reduce emissions and fight the climate crisis. 

First, he said, there needs to be a focus on accountability and the carbon budget. While it is very difficult to track carbon emissions, money can be tracked. So, to reduce carbon emissions, the city needs to be mindful of where it is investing. Second, Layton noted that the city needs to focus on reducing the use of natural gas in buildings, which are the number one source of emissions in the city. 

Third, he highlighted that the City needs to work to make people more comfortable out on the streets, whether they are on foot or bike, to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and thus reduce overall carbon emissions. Lastly, he stressed the need to build an electrical grid that is reliant on carbon-free energy sources. 

Layton emphasized that “what we need is leadership from both [municipal and provincial] governments, but also cooperation with the private sector.” He also emphasized the role of the wider community, saying, “We need to bring everyone along in this exercise to decarbonize our lifestyles.” He explained that these next two terms of the council are vital to meeting 2030 and 2050 carbon emission goals. 

Andria Babbington, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, and Chloe Tse, co-chair of the Toronto Climate Action Network, joined Mah and Layton to conclude the event. They discussed the relationship between health and climate change. Mah, moderating the panel, said that, annually, “Toronto Public Health estimates that over 1,400 people in Toronto die prematurely due to air pollution,” 

She explained that people who live near highways and other roads with heavy traffic have an increased risk of health issues due to air pollution. In response, Layton emphasized the need to reduce the number of cars in the city and focus on increasing alternative modes of transportation. 

“We need to make sure that we’re starting to position ourselves not only as the generation [that] save[s] the world, but also as the generation that ensured that it was a more equitable space and economy,” Layton said.

The 2022 Toronto municipal election is on October 24. Advance voting days are from October 7–14.