Climate Change - How do we move forward in Ontario - Federal

I’ve prepared a series of four related blogs on the question: where do we go next on climate change action in Ontario? See the introductory blog, and the related blogs on provincial action  and local action. If we agree that the job at hand is to actually reduce carbon emissions in the global atmosphere, and fast, as well as protect people from the damage already done, what should we be doing now?

In the vein of taking multiple approaches, local to global, the next blog deals with some federal opportunities. Here’s what I think needs to happen:

Federal Climate Action

Under our constitution, the “environment” is recognized as an important aspect of multiple jurisdictions in Canada by our courts, including federal, provincial, territorial and indigenous. The federal government is pursuing carbon pricing, which we support, as one tool. Other tools should include much better environmental assessment rules that properly recognize climate issues. (Coincidentally a new discussion paper on inclusion of climate impacts in strategic impact assessments is out for a short consultation ending on August 15th. Sectoral air regulations  that are ambitious, with strong enforcement need to be improved and expanded to include specific, quicker timelines and targets for reduction that will actually reduce GHG emissions from those sectors in Canada.

Fundamentally the federal government has to reconcile its stark contradiction between supporting expansion of oil transportation infrastructure and its climate goals. A national discussion on what “leaving it in the ground” means has to over-take our constant battle over specific projects, and we need to get serious about moving into a sustainable energy and infrastructure future rather than subsidizing yesterday’s technology such as nuclear power and an oil-based economy (see The Tyee for one story on what that means). Ending further federal subsidies of oil and gas as recommended for years by the Green Budget Coalition is another important set of actions.

The federal role should include federal incentives, research programs, support for pilots, and utilizing its convening power need to accelerate world-class cold-country building technology, shifting our transportation system to a post-carbon future, and supporting our position as a highly educated population that can be at the fore-front of the climate-friendly jobs of the future. The federal spending power through annual budgets and programming, establishment of additional national research chairs and centres of excellence, awards programs and other tools can help support these aims.

CELA will continue focussing on low income communities and ensuring that the they are front and centre for policy makers in dealing both with inequitable impacts of both climate change, as well as making sure they can participate in the jobs and technology adoption of the new approaches to energy use of the future. At the same time, there is no time to “put down our tools” when it comes to the fight against climate change, and we look forward to working with Ontario’s new government to develop a climate fighting plan – fast.

At CELA, we are the environmental law folks. We like law as part of the solution to environmental problems. We really like approaches that are enforceable, and are actually enforced. This means setting up legal systems that set out expectations for behaviour (such as pollution); that include monitoring and measurement; and hold people accountable to the laws we’ve collectively passed. Other approaches including pressure from consumers and investors are also important, not only from investors’ ethical choices, but also due to concern about future liabilities on the part of corporate shareholders. However, in my view, solutions that address greenhouse gas emissions directly, requiring their reduction here in Ontario, by way of regulatory approaches to reduce air pollution are essential to the climate change fight. Tough, Ontario-made air pollution regulations will also pay-off in better air quality for Ontario residents, and are one way to build on the green technology we have been developing in Ontario, while also fighting climate change.