Ontario’s carbon cap-and-trade program is working well, but the province will still need to work harder on freight and other transportation emissions to meet its carbon reduction goals, Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe reported yesterday.
While cap-and-trade has generated C$1.9 billion for the public purse and contributed to greenhouse gas reductions in Canada’s most populous province, Saxe said the tougher work still lies ahead. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting a price on carbon pollution are a good start,” she stated. “But this is a complicated process; there is a lot more to do.”
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In a release accompanying her full report, Saxe’s office noted that “the province’s first year of cap and trade provides a clear carbon price framework, and decreasing caps on allowable levels of carbon pollution will help achieve Ontario’s climate targets.” The commissioner also lauded Ontario’s partnership with California and Quebec in the Western Climate Initiative, a common carbon permit trading zone with 61 million people—a population 84% larger than Canada’s alone.
“This should keep costs down for Ontario families, and provide more flexibility and opportunities for business,” she said.
But while Ontario’s 2015 greenhouse gas emissions reached their lowest level since reporting began in 1990, meeting a reduction target of 6% below 1990 levels, most of that achievement was due to the closure of the province’s last coal plant the previous year.
“New initiatives are needed if Ontario is to meet its future emissions reduction targets of 15% in 2020, 37% in 2030, and 80% in 2050,” Saxe warned.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made addressing climate change a government-wide priority in mandate letters sent to each of her cabinet ministers in 2016. But some ministries—Saxe named Education, Energy, Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the Treasury Board Secretariat—have yet to fully internalize climate change in their planning and decision-making.
Moreover, the commissioner warned that not all the programs Ontario has announced since its 2016 Climate Change Action Plan will make much of a dent in emissions. Others have yet to prove their worth. For example, “Ontario is building almost 500 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at approximately 250 locations across the province. However, current EV adoption rates remain low, and range anxiety remains a significant deterrent to EV uptake.”
Transportation in general is a particularly tough nut, Saxe acknowledged. It accounts for a third of Ontario’s emissions, with GHGs from freight transport more than doubling since 1990—even as the province’s total emissions have fallen.
“Without urgent action, fossil fuel emissions from trucking alone will make it impossible to meet the province’s climate targets,” she warned.
Last November, Saxe panned the Wynne government’s “long-term” energy plan as neither. This week, she said there’s also “room to improve” the way the province handles the money it’s raising by selling carbon pollution permits. The revenue has funded $1.37 billion in projects as of November, 2017, “almost all [of which] meet the requirements of the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act,” she concluded. But Saxe still concluded the province “needs a better plan” for what do with the future inflow of funds.
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