The national greenhouse gas inventory report that Canada filed with the United Nations last week showed a big increase in Ontario, after several years of steady decline, Toronto-based Environmental Defence reported in a blog post earlier this week.
With only 40% of the population, the province accounted for two-thirds of Canada’s 15-megatonne increase between 2017 and 2018, notes Sarah Buchanan, the organization’s program manager, clean economy. The 10-megatonne jump offset one-third of the carbon savings Ontario achieved by phasing out coal-fired electricity, and those reductions took more than a decade to accumulate.
“It’s not a total coincidence that 2018 is the year that Premier Ford was elected, and immediately slashed cap and trade, along with the billions of dollars per year it brought in funding for programs to cut GHG emissions. But the spike seems too big to be the result of six months of cancelled programs,” Buchanan writes.
“When I dove deeper into the data, the increases across many sectors were more than expected. Buildings (specifically, heating them), transportation, electricity, and industrial processes (which would have been regulated by cap and trade) all increased enough to warrant attention.”
Buchanan says “weather, consumer preferences for bigger vehicles like SUVs, and economic growth caused emissions to rise in 2018 in Ontario,” faster than they would have if the province’s successful cap and trade program had still been in effect. Overall, buildings accounted for nearly half of the emissions increase, transport for nearly one-quarter, and electricity for about 19%.
If the Ford government hadn’t cut the funding made possible by cap and trade, the province’s previous energy efficiency and renewable energy programs “would have helped more people install smart thermostats or energy efficient furnaces to reduce heating fuel use,” she writes. “More cities would have retrofitted public housing buildings, or added electric buses to their fleets. More hospitals and schools would have cut fossil fuel consumption through planned retrofits. More people would have switched their gas cars to electric. More renewable energy would have been added to our electricity grid. These climate actions were all axed, and Ontario missed its chance to flatten the spike from a high-demand year.”
Buchanan has the sector-by-sector details of where the increases happened.
Until 2018, “Ontario was on a trajectory of seeing the economy grow while GHG emissions dropped— a big goal of many jurisdictions trying to fight climate change,” she concludes. Now, “Ontario’s GHG emissions spike can teach us a valuable lesson. To avoid being at the mercy of weather, gas prices, and consumption patterns, governments need to take action to make sure Ontario’s economic growth isn’t dependent on increasing carbon pollution.”