One man’s deep faith in Toronto

ICLEI

 

In 1991, because Toronto was leading the cities of the world in the struggle against global warming, an organization with a vision of global change, led by an elfish man from Boston, established its world headquarters here.

The organization is called the International Council for Local Government Initiatives, and goes by the absurd acronym of ICLEI (pronounced ik-lee). The man is Jeb Brugmann, and yes, he was indeed named after the dashing Confederate cavalryman of the American Civil War, J.E.B. (Jeb) Stuart.

ICLEI chose Toronto because it was the first city in the world to proclaim a target of 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by the year 2005, and because it was serious in its determination to reach the target. Toronto beat out Berlin, Glasgow, and Miami in the race to attract ICLEI.

The wisdom of that choice was confirmed a year later, Brugmann says, when Toronto established its Atmospheric Fund, with a $23-million endowment out of proceeds from the sale of the Langstaff Jail Farm.

The purpose of the fund is « to promote global climate stabilization by the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases.’’ It is administered by a board composed of three city councillors, three civil servants, and four citizens and, says Brugmann, it is a key element in Toronto’s ability to reach its target.

For instance, he says, it’s only because the fund will guarantee lending institutions against losses of up to $2 million that Toronto can proceed with its plan to completely retrofit one per cent of all city buildings — institutional, commercial, small business, and residential — to make them energy efficient.

The total cost will be about $30 million. Half of that will be paid under the federal-provincial program for infrastructure improvement and half by private owners. But banks and financial institutions need the guarantee before they will lend to small business and residential owners.

It’s an example of how « without the fund, Toronto won’t be able to meet its goals,’’ says Brugmann.

Altogether aside from the good of the environment, why, I ask Brugmann, is Toronto’s commitment important?

His answer is simple: « Toronto can’t do well in today’s world without operating internationally. It needs an image, an active presence, in the international arena.

« Right now, Toronto has gone 25 per cent of the way to becoming a major centre of the world for energy management.’’ That, he says, has already given Toronto an international caché. « The city can say to businessmen, `We can open doors for you.’

« We know that if Toronto continues its success story, we can convince other municipalities to do the same.’’ For that reason, Brugmann sees Toronto as « our strategic partner.’’ He works with Toronto staff to develop techniques for efficient energy management and ensures that ICLEI does its own door openings.

For instance, ICLEI was contacted by Israelis who wanted bids for the installation of a pollution monitoring system for all of Israel. ICLEI alerted Bovar Environmental Partnership in Toronto and although Bovar didn’t get the job, it developed contacts and now is pursuing other business in Israel.

As a second example, ICLEI recently agreed with ESSA Software Ltd. in Toronto to market to all its municipal members an environmental assessment software package, using satellite mapping systems, that ESSA has developed.

Brugmann, an economist, conceived of ICLEI at the close of the Cold War. He had been active in the U.S. peace and disarmament movement and was eager to return to his first love, environmental activism. So he set about building  ICLEI.

The inaugural meeting was held at the United Nations in New York in September 1990. Now ICLEI has 188 members, of which 174 are municipalities and the remainder are regional governments and municipal associations. It has a European office in Freiburg, Germany, an Asia-Pacific office in Tokyo, Japan, and a regional co-ordinating office in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Its world headquarters in Toronto has a staff of 19 of whom seven are seconded from the city, Metro, Ontario Hydro, Consumers Gas, and a Japanese city. The budget for the entire international organization comes to $5 million and is paid by member municipalities. In addition members donate close to $3 million in office space and travel.

« We’re getting offers to move our headquarters elsewhere on terms that are much better than what we’re getting in Toronto,’’ Brugmann says. « But we think Toronto is the place to be.’’ In his opinion, it’s where the future lies.

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