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Toronto City of Toronto staff to explore cost of climate change, legal options for compensation from greenhouse gas emitters

Toronto city staff have been tasked with exploring legal action in the fight against climate change in the same week that another Greater Toronto Area municipality has raised the alarm of a climate emergency.

In a motion passed Thursday by the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, staff were directed to produce a report on the cost implications of climate change to Toronto’s infrastructure and programs, as well as any legal recourse for compensation from greenhouse gas emitters. Although an actual lawsuit is still for future consideration, it would follow similar climate litigation actions in New York, San Francisco and other cities. The impact of environmental changes is of growing concern to municipalities across North America – on Wednesday, the city of Burlington declared a climate emergency.

“While it can seem like an abstract problem, the effects of climate change are best felt by residents of the city every time we experience a massive storm,” Councillor Mike Layton told reporters before committee. “Cities are the ones that are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with the costs of climate change.”

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For every dollar in insurance claims for home and businesses, the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates governments pay $3 to repair public infrastructure damage. In August, city flooding cost $80-million in insured damages.

Spring floods have already begun in other parts of Canada and within Ontario: On Tuesday, Bracebridge in Muskoka declared a state of emergency, followed by Ottawa on Thursday.

“These events are becoming more frequent and more severe and climate change is a major factor – ignoring this problem won’t make it go away," Mr. Layton said.

The report will be delivered to committee before the end of this year.

A statement from spokesperson Don Peat said that while Mayor John Tory supports “understanding the long-term cost implications of climate change to the City," he is not in favour of “becoming involved in lawsuits against oil companies."

“He does not think those kinds of lawsuits advance the protection of the environment,” it said, going on to cite the implementation and funding of the TransformTO climate action strategy as Tory’s “main focus.”

Meanwhile in Burlington, Councillor Rory Nisan said that while the climate emergency declaration was “symbolic,” the motion also calls for the development of a Climate Action Plan for delivery in December.

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“If you do climate emergency declarations and don’t follow up with actions, then you don’t have much to show for yourself," he said.

The city aims to be net carbon neutral by 2040. Vancouver, Halifax, Kingston, London, Ont., and Hamilton have also declared climate emergencies.

The Regional Council of Durham also endorsed its own Durham Community Energy Plan Wednesday, the latest addition to its climate change mitigation and adaption strategy. The framework aims to improve energy efficiency, reduce energy use and encourage green solutions through to 2050.

Developed over three years in partnership with the region’s eight municipalities and five energy utilities, it now goes to those bodies for approval.

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