Although the announcement isn’t due for another week or more, the Ontario government is coming under fire for considering a new climate plan based on a failed policy experiment in Australia, even as it continues to take heat for gutting a past program that was working just fine.
“Premier Doug Ford’s government will, sometime in the next 10 days, release its climate change plan, and there are strong signs it will be modelled on Australia’s system for reducing carbon emissions,” CBC reports. “That worries climate change activists, because Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have actually been on the rise since 2015.”
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In September, The Guardian reported that Australia’s transport emissions were up 63% since 1990.
In contrast to Ontario’s successful carbon cap-and-trade program, which put a cost on companies’ excess carbon pollution, Australia’s A$2.2-billion Emissions Reduction Fund uses taxpayers’ money to pay companies, farmers, and landowners to cut their emissions, CBC explains. The Australian plan “was created by a conservative government, which came to power largely by campaigning to scrap the carbon pricing scheme of the left-of-centre party that was previously in government. Sound familiar, Ontario?”
Just a couple of problems: The Australia plan doesn’t work. The country’s fraught climate and energy politics have given it one of the most unstable governments in the G20. And the latest incarnation of that government, led by avid coal advocate Scott Morrison, has become such a laughing stock that it has lost the confidence of the country’s main business lobby, even as private enterprise envisions the end of any need for 24/7, fossil-supplied base load power. The governing Liberal Coalition most recently distinguished itself by voting to keep climate change out of its national energy policy.
None of which stopped Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips from name-checking Australia in a recent speech as a potential model for Ontario’s new plan.
“We’re looking at jurisdictions around the world,” he told CBC earlier this week. “We’ll bring a plan forward. That plan will have a number of facets to it, it’ll have [GHG reduction] targets that we’ll be committed to meeting, but it will not have a carbon tax.”
“When you hear the Ford government say they’re going to have an Australia plan, translate those words in your head—what it means is they have a plan to increase emissions,” countered Ecojustice senior lawyer Amir Attaran. “If they follow Australia’s model, there is no chance in hell that emissions will go down.”
Mark Cameron, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, said there’s some possibility that an Australia-style system can work, but not as efficiently as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system. “It essentially involves government paying directly instead of the market encouraging people to reduce emissions on their own,” he said.
Ford has hinted at a plan to “come down hard” on polluters by targeting big industrial emitters like steel and cement plants. “If this government wants to come in with the heavy hand of regulation to drive down emissions, that would achieve it,” responded Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. “But it would do it at a higher cost, and that cost will eventually get passed on to people.”
While officials put the finishing touches on Phillips’ upcoming announcement, the province is still under attack for cancelling the successful GreenON program, which “gave out thousands of dollars in rebates to make homes and buildings more energy efficient,” National Observer reports.
“In Ontario right now, we definitely are in a situation where we’re winding down a program that was pretty active and pretty successful,” said Sandy MacLeod, president of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), which represents a C$7-billion cluster of industries with roughly 50,000 employees nationwide.
“The GreenON program—there may have been lots of faults with it—but it was very successful from a geothermal perspective,” MacLeod added. “That has literally come to a grinding halt.”