Blog

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

I’ve prepared a series of four related blogs on the question of where do we go next on climate change action in Ontario? An introductory blog, a blog on federal action, and a blog on 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 provincial opportunities. Here’s what I think needs to happen:

Provincial Climate Action

While we support some market mechanisms, there are other options as well. Removing unnecessary barriers to innovation is one category. For example, Ontario could provide better access for solar powered vehicles to Ontario’s highways (see the irony where an Ontario man could drive his solar powered car across Canada and to Inuvik but in 2012 had to pull it himself to Ottawa to complete the journey due to Ontario’s intransigence.

Another category of options include incentives to speed up technology advancement in greener buildings, heating and transportation which, along with industry, are among the highest sources of carbon emissions in Ontario. In particular, the renewable technology expertise and infrastructure that has been built up in Ontario in the last two decades is a huge asset and a competitive advantage; Ontario needs to act fast to avoid losing all of this expertise to other jurisdictions. Policy innovation to expedite renewables adoption has already had lots of thoughtful commentary that the province can take advantage of; for example for solar power, the industry association has published a Roadmap 2020.

The gas taxes that the province collects (apart from the cap and trade linked charges that are ending) should continue to be focussed on public transit which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and gets people to their jobs, schools and families in communities all over Ontario. The province’s negotiations with the federal government on infrastructure programs should include program funding criteria that prioritize climate-friendly infrastructure applications from municipalities. For example in Norfolk County just south of where I live, this program is helping to fund storm-sewer upgrades; storm-sewers are among the hardest hit pieces of infrastructure in the fierce storms that are coming with climate change.

The province’s climate action plan includes a wealth of great ideas and initiatives, was developed with input from all kinds of stakeholders, and is a resource that can allow the new government to fast-track a new climate plan for public consultation. The province also needs to up the game on protecting Ontarians and the environment from all kinds of air pollution; this includes GHG emissions as well as many related toxic and harmful pollutants. There’s a lot to do ensuring that northern Ontarians are well protected; that communities with multiple facilities are much better protected; that cumulative adverse effects are better assessed and prevented. The province has been slow to move on preventing such mixtures in air and we’ve called on Ontario to do better.

And not least, Ontario needs to be part of the future when it comes to energy generation technology. Phasing out coal in Ontario was a huge achievement, and dramatically reduced our energy generation GHGs. But if we rely on dinosaur nuclear technology as our mainstay electricity future, we’ll be left in the competitive dust of the rest of the world. Not even pro-nuclear scientists writing in a recent article of the National Academy of Sciences can see any scenario where nuclear plays a significant role in decarbonizing our energy future. The only carbon friendly future is renewable (for an Ontario-specific take on what this would take, see the Renewable is Doable reports.

The provincial government should reverse its decision to cancel the most recent 758 renewable energy contracts whose projects are primarily owned by municipalities, utilities, farmers, and First Nations. If you or your municipality, utility or First Nation had such a project, email or write to your local MPP and the Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, to ask that the government reconsider. Multiple voices are hoping that the programs they support will continue; for example farmers want credit for beneficial farm practices.

Underlying all of Ontario’s effort has to be a massive scaling up of our efforts in Ontario on reducing energy consumption, ranging from retrofitting social housing buildings, to helping private building owners speed up their conservation efforts. A report by CELA and the Pembina Institute over ten years ago gave a list of ideas that are still on point about how to transition to a fully renewable future.

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.