Goodbye, gasoline: Inside Toronto's strategy to wean the city off greenhouse gases

Who pays for a greener planet when you live in a condo?

To get Toronto on track for an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Torontonians will have to shift how they build, where they live, and how they get around, according a city report out Thursday.

Among the necessary changes are saying goodbye to gas and diesel-fuelled vehicles entirely, dramatically expanding transit and building denser communities where schools and services are all a short walk away.

"There is a reason that we call the report 'TransformTO,'" said Mark Bekkering, manager of policy and research for the city's environment and energy division.

In 2007, Toronto city council gave themselves 43 years to get greenhouse gas emissions down by 80 per cent from 1990 levels.

Since then, according to the report, Toronto's emissions have dropped by 24 per cent, mostly thanks to the capture and use of methane at landfills, the phaseout of coal, and better efficiency in things like cars, furnaces and buildings.

To get the rest of the way, the "scale and pace" of change will need to accelerate, the report says.

Here are some of the long-term changes it listed as necessary to hit the 2050 target:

- 100 per cent of transportation options, including personal vehicles and public transit, will use low or zero-carbon energy sources.

- 75 per cent of trips under five kilometres will be undertaken on foot or bicycle.

- 100 per cent of older buildings must be retrofitted to the highest emission reduction "technically feasible."

- All new buildings need to be built to produce near-zero emissions.

- 95 per cent of all waste created in the city will be diverted from landfill through recycling and reuse programs.

How much will it cost?

Citizens, businesses, and all three levels of government will have to spend about $60 billion in 2017 dollars to get Toronto to its goal, according to estimates prepared for the city.

That's not money down the drain, said Bekkering, pointing out that projections show about two-thirds of that cost will pay for itself through energy savings and other economic benefits.  

"The aggressive retrofitting of buildings could generate about 80,000 jobs over the next 30 years. Those are jobs that are going to be here in Toronto," he said.  

An equally important question is whether the plan is realistic.

"Don't forget that we're talking about the next 33 years. It's not like it all has to happen tomorrow," said Bekkering.

"It's achievable with existing technology and some behaviour change. We've invented solar panels, we've invented electric cars."

The report will go to the city's Parks and Environment Committee next week, and if approved, will go to city council next month.