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Ontario is nowhere to be found at climate summit

October 28, 2021

Next week’s international summit in Glasgow, Scotland is shaping up to be a defining event in the global fight against climate change. While Prime Minister Trudeau, and federal environment minister Steven Guilbeault will be there, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, David Piccini, definitely won’t.

To do otherwise would be to draw attention to the embarrassment that is the Ford government’s record on climate change. Until the June 2018 provincial election, Ontario had a relatively comprehensive strategy around climate change. Coal-fired electricity generation had been phased out, and the province was participating in a cap-and-trade system with Quebec and California. That system put a price on industrial greenhouse gas emissions, and on fossil fuels used for transportation and heating. The cap-and-trade system was accompanied by initiatives to support the electrification of transportation, expansions of public transit, and energy efficiency retrofits for buildings.

The cap-and-trade system and the province’s other climate programs were swept away by the incoming Ford government in the aftermath of the 2018 election. The province did then come up with a ‘Made in Ontario’ climate plan in November 2019, but has done virtually nothing to actually implement it.

Instead, the province has found itself consigned to a kind of climate defaulters’ prison, with climate policies so weak that the federal ‘backstop’ carbon pricing system is being applied to both industrial emissions and fossil fuel purchases in the province. The province’s attempts to challenge the federal backstop were rejected by both the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Sadly the province’s record of failure does not stop there. The Ford government’s love affair with the development industry is well known. This is leading to the continuation of sprawling automobile-dependent development around the Greater Toronto Area, embedding carbon-intensive building stocks and transportation patterns for decades to come.  The Premier is making his plans to plow new highways through the GTA Greenbelt and Holland Marsh to serve this development the centrepieces of his 2022 re-election campaign.

On the electricity and energy fronts, the Ford government has halted any further renewable energy development, dismantled the province’s existing, and largely successful, strategies around energy efficiency. Globally renewable energy development and energy efficiency strategies are seen as essential to decarbonizing energy systems.

Instead, the province’s current plans are to replace the aged and retiring Pickering nuclear facility, and the output from the Bruce and Darlington facilities when they are taken out of service for refurbishment, with natural gas-fired power plants.  The result will be to erode a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emission reductions, and gains in air quality, achieved through the phase-out of coal-fired electricity in 2014. The current projections flowing from the province’s plan would see 4-500% increases in emissions of greenhouse gases and smog precursors from the electricity sector over the next decade.

Taken as a whole, it would be difficult to imagine a better strategy for increasing Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions than building highways, facilitating urban sprawl, and ramping up fossil fuel-fired electricity generation. Ontario needs a real climate change strategy before the rest of the world realizes just how badly the province is doing.