New Ontario ECO report questions provincial cuts to GHG reduction programs

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As Ontario’s new government begins cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs such as cap and trade, and Drive Clean, the province’s Environmental Commissioner is asking “What’s Next” in a new report on climate action in Ontario.

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne Saxe, suggests that, while Ontario’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions declined from 2005 to 2016, the government’s recent halt to climate programs could reverse that trend, and avoid the lowest cost pathways to a sustainable economy. Saxe notes that a “meaningful climate law” needs science-based emissions budgets, a legal obligation to stay within those budgets, and credible, transparent progress reporting.

“Ontario has gutted most of its climate change programs,” said Saxe in a statement to media. “Most of the cap and trade money was funding energy efficiency programs in Ontario communities – in schools, public housing, transit and hospitals, for example – that would have reduced GHGs and saved millions of dollars in energy costs,” Saxe added.

The new report notes that Ontario has made progress on GHG reductions by: closing coal plants; slowing urban sprawl and promoting conservation; the 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act; the 2016 Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act and its cap and trade system; joining the shared carbon market with California and Quebec; and joining the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Greenhouse Gas Progress Report Graph
Photo Credit: Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, 2018 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report.

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This GHG reduction progress came to a “wrenching halt”, states Saxe. On June 15, 2018, the Premier designate announced that the first act of the new government would be to cancel cap and trade. It was officially cancelled less than one month later.

“It would leave Ontario with no statutory emission targets, no pathway to achieve targets, weak reporting, no carbon price, and no stream of revenue to invest in solutions,” writes Saxe in her report. “Many parties who, in good faith, invested time, money, expertise and credibility in Ontario emission reduction projects have been left with damaged relationships and uncompensated losses. This affects Ontario’s economy as well as its environment and climate progress,” added Saxe.

In revoking the Climate Act, Saxe noted that Bill 4 would retroactively eliminate all emission reduction obligations for Ontario emitters over the period that the cap and trade program was in effect (January 1, 2017 to July 3, 2018).

The cap and trade program also supported several other GHG reduction programs such as the Green Commercial Vehicle Program, which supported the growth of electric vehicles.

The new government also cancelled, without notice or public consultation, 752 renewable electricity contracts across Ontario, the report found, including a disproportionate effect on First Nations communities.

Saxe warns that the provincial government must begin to take climate change adaptation seriously, particularly as droughts, heat waves, and ice storms become more commonplace.

The report recommends to:

  1. Fund the new climate data organization, so that it may provide Ontarians with reliable data on the climate that is coming.
  2. Assess and prioritize Ontario’s physical and financial vulnerabilities to climate risk.
  3. Clarify who is responsible for which adaptation tasks, and by when.
  4. Create incentives that encourage homeowners, businesses and others to reduce climate risks to themselves and others.
  5. Integrate preparing for climate risks into provincial laws, policies and standards.

For a full, detailed list of recommendations go to page 201 of the report.

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