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Ontario Climate Plan Undercuts Cities’ GHG Reduction Efforts, Fails on Green Jobs

The Ontario government’s new climate change plan undercuts cities’ ability to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while failing to set the stage for a green jobs strategy for Canada’s biggest province and industrial heartland, according to separate posts last month by Julia Langer of The Atmospheric Fund and Liliana Camacho of Toronto-based Horizon Advisors.

“Over 50% of Ontario’s carbon emissions originate in cities,” but the Ontario plan “could weaken cities’ potential to contribute to climate protection in three ways,” writes TAF CEO Langer. “First, the lowered 2030 carbon reduction target and lack of a long-term target could put pressure on cities to weaken their ambition, as well. Second, the availability of funding for urban climate solutions has been dramatically reduced. Third, there is little detail on the key strategies for reducing emissions.”

Camacho, director of clean growth at Horizon, links green jobs strategy to General Motors’ startling decision last year to shutter its auto plant in Oshawa. “On one hand, climate science clearly shows a need for innovation so that we can transition to a cleaner economy,” she writes. “On the other, economic transitions require new skills and lead to unemployment in dying industries. Ontario needs to support its market through transitions created by innovation while balancing consequences to its labour force, if we are to wholeheartedly support the shift to a green economy that improves our quality of life.”

Langer warns that cities “can’t lead from behind” in a province that has substantially weakened its 2030 carbon target—and has no 2050 target at all.

“All stakeholders need to have a short-, medium-, and long-term view to at least 80% emission reduction—net zero according to the IPCC—in order to avert irreversible impacts on our environmental, economic, and social well-being,” she warns. “Choices we make between now and 2030 will have a major impact on Ontario’s 2050 emissions, such as decisions about new buildings and infrastructure. A long-term target is key to ensuring that these decisions are evaluated against that goal, or we risk getting locked into a pathway that is inconsistent with a stable climate. Each year we delay reductions, the harder, slower, and more expensive it gets.”

The new plan also provides 90% less provincial funding than was available under the former Liberal government. Langer gives Ontario a hat-tip for setting up the new Ontario Carbon Trust as a revolving fund, but notes that “for cities that need capital to advance low-carbon solutions—like retrofitting our aging building stock, building out and electrifying transportation, and local distributed generation and storage—this represents a significant setback.”

She adds that “TAF is pleased to see that the plan includes numerous other key urban carbon reduction strategies, like strengthening the building code, banning organic waste from landfills, and expanding natural gas conservation programs.” But in the end, “cities with more aggressive targets may feel out on a limb and lacking some of the key provincially-controlled tools and levers for advancing urban reductions.”

Where Langer focuses on the climate plan’s implications for municipalities, Camacho takes a similar tone in relation to industrial development and innovation, taking the province to task for failing to set up “strategic retraining opportunities” that would have helped GM workers find a place in emerging industries. She says that work could and should have begun when the U.S.-based automaker first indicated that production at Oshawa was only guaranteed until 2020.

“Prominent environmental and labour organizations in Ontario have been proposing the creation of an Ontario green jobs strategy for some time now, and a recent report by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario suggested investment in education and training is needed to capitalize on economic opportunities of clean tech innovation,” she writes. “For example, building retrofits and green construction is an area of growing demand that can provide good work opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area for skilled workers.”

Yet “Ontario’s new climate change plan does not invest in enhancing labour capacity in green industries. This is a crucial omission.”