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SEEING GREEN 036: New Year brings new urgency on environment resolutions

Seeing GreenWe as East Yorkers and members of the planet Earth start our new year, both globally and locally, with trying to absorb many pledges, resolutions and commitments to restore and protect our environment and the living systems we depend upon.  They depend on our involvement and action.

As the Bonn Climate Conference wound down there was increased urgency to for countries to solidify the Paris Agreement procedures and increase the targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This became more acute as a result of the World Meteorological Organization‘s announcement that the levels of carbons dioxide in the atmosphere surged at record breaking speed to new highs in 2016.  This news was especially disappointing coming after a two year hiatus in increases. (Let alone coming after the disappointments of the actions of our neighbour to the south/)

Another urgent “Call to Humanity” came from the Union of Concerned Scientists with a letter signed by 15,000 scientists warning of declining environmental conditions of the planet —soil depletion, forest loss, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss— since their last warning of 1992.  What progress there has been was very slow and inadequate.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, working with the U.K. Environment Minister has initiated a world wide coal phase-out, an important global concern and a laudable goal that brought support from over 20 other countries.  But unless immediate strong actions are taken Canada will fail to meet its weak commitment to reduce 2005 levels 30% by 2030.  Our country is still producing over 700 megatons of GHG emissions, most of these from oil production, transportation, agriculture, heating of buildings.  There is a gap of some 200 megatons needed to go down to 523 megatons to meet the target.  As our Environment Commissioner pointed out, Canada is still subsidizing fossil fuel productions and has no plan in place to phase this out.

Provincially, Metrolinx released its long-anticipated “Draft Regional Transportation Plan for 2041”.  As important as it is to have a plan for the next 25 years it needs to be seen by the political actors as an urgent priority to move the region out of congestion and gridlock.  Several environmental and transportation organizations were quick to point out that decisions being made for transportation planning (such as the Scarborough subway extension) are lacking in transparency and accountability and not based on concrete facts.  Transit plans also need to be aligned with land-use planning and the province’s “Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe”.  We are too slow at moving away from a car culture to reliable and convenient transit, cycling and walking.  Also, most of the proposed projects still lack funding, which is still a political hot potato.

Locally, the city’s water and planning departments presented to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee a new “Green Streets Technical Guidelines Report” to prepare our streets for greater resilience from flooding and climate change while also reducing the heat island effect and improving groundwater and water and air quality.  Green infrastructure —street trees, native plants, soil cells, green walls, rain gardens, tree trenches, bioswales, stone wells, green gutters, permeable surfaces, solar roads— is employed for the much needed ecological and hydrological benefits.  Our urban world has lost most of its green cover since European settlement; this is one way to work at a small remedy.  It is only by proactive steps that we can avoid the heavy costs financially and socially that come by acting after the fact.  An implementation plan for the Green Streets will be in the works.

The “Ravine Strategy” for Toronto was passed in October, which is an important move forward to provide protection and management of the ravine system, but perhaps unfortunately allowing too many other uses as well.  And groups like the Toronto Field Naturalists see a need for better stewardship, more secure, dedicated funding and an acceleration of the plans to protect the environmentally sensitive areas rather than the ten years projected.

A new umbrella organization made up of several nature groups throughout Toronto, called Protect Nature Toronto, has appeared with a web site  It is encouraging us to put more emphasis on the life systems that we are a part of, addressing biodiversity and pollinator protection along with problems of invasive species and misuse of the natural areas.  This is a group we should all get behind and support.


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