Ontario Receives Failing Grades for Climate Plan, Misses Business Case for Environmental Commissioner’s Office
The Doug Ford government is receiving failing grades for the scantly-detailed climate plan released late last month by Environment Minister Rod Phillips, while a former senior official argues a strong business case for the Office of the Environmental Commissioner (OCE) after Team Ford decided to shut the office down.
On the climate plan, Environmental Defence gives the province a failing grade of 2 out of 10, while Greenpeace Canada calls out the “post-truth politics” at the heart of Phillips’ announcement. “It was the most surreal moment at the unveiling of Ontario’s new climate plan,” writes Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart. “Environment Minister Rod Phillips heaping praise on Liberal governments of the last 15 years for successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Then came the kicker: thanks to those efforts, Ontario has done its bit, so the Ford government intends to sit out the fight against climate change.”
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After seeing Ontario cut its carbon pollution by 44 megatonnes (Mt) since 2006, “the new target is to reduce them by 18 Mt over the next 12 years,” and most that activity depends on federal commitments, Stewart states. “Ontario will not only do nothing, but it is also launching a legal challenge of the federal government’s attempt to fill the climate action gap through carbon pricing, although the Ford government will support any efforts to get pipelines built through Ontario. Not even Phillips could pretend that the government’s so-called plan was anything other than a retreat.”
Noting that “the fake news tricks and post-truth politics that propelled Donald Trump and Doug Ford into office were invented in the climate wars,” Stewart stresses that “Ford’s abandonment of carbon pricing isn’t a bug for the contemporary Conservative movement, it’s a feature.” He sees the solution in the massive, front-line movement that has been building to demand fast climate action—from newly-elected progressives in the U.S. Congress working with the youth-led Sunrise Movement on a Green New Deal, to Canadian youth occupying politicians’ offices.
“From the school walkouts in Australia and Sweden to the youth climate lawsuits in the U.S. and Quebec, where more than 50,000 people took to the streets to call for aggressive climate action in response to the election of the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, young people are demanding climate solutions that are as big as the problem,” he writes. “Will you?”
The Environmental Defence report card assesses the provincial plan in 10 key areas, explains Clean Economy Program Manager Sarah Buchanan. “This was a tough task given that the plan includes few specifics in its proposed actions,” she writes. “While there are commitments to ‘investigate’ or ‘consider’ promising policies, we’ve decided not to count any actions without commitments behind them.”
On that basis, Ontario received zero points for failing to align its goals with a 1.5°C target for average global warming, commit to new sources of renewable electricity, account fornearly C$1 billion in revenue left over from the previous government’s carbon cap-and-trade program, include incentives or rebates to help Ontarians of all socio-economic backgrounds, commit funds to make public infrastructure more energy efficient, or allocate enough funds to accomplish its own goals.
The province gets 0.5 points each for committing to greenhouse gas reductions in transportation, industry, buildings, and waste management.
“The plan may be vague, but there’s a chance we could see more details in the coming months as it goes through consultation and approval,” Buchanan writes. “There’s also the possibility that with public pressure, more actions will be included.” She urges readers to file their comments on the plan through the Environmental Registry of Ontario by January 28.
In Alternatives Journal, meanwhile, the province’s former deputy environmental commissioner, Ellen Schwartzel, argues that the business community and rural Ontarians have the biggest stake in seeing the OCE continue its work.
“The long-term interest of business is strongly aligned with a competent, independent voice for the environment at Queen’s Park,” she writes. “Ontario’s economy still runs (more than we may think) on resources held in common stewardship—the Great Lakes, groundwater, forests, sand, gravel, and minerals, to name just a few. But commonly held resources are prone to misuse. So running a resource-based economy safely and long-term requires safety valves and warning signals,” which the Environmental Commissioner provides at a cost of about 30¢ per Ontario resident per year.
“Sure, in the short-term, the warnings of the Environmental Commissioner may irritate some – just like a fire alarm can irritate,” Schwartzel writes. “But as grown-ups, we know what can happen when we disable fire alarms. And today’s corporations cannot afford to think of the short term only. To gain and hold the long-term trust of customers, and especially to be granted social licence to operate in a community, companies need to take the long view.”
Which means that “they need to be able to point not only to their own actions, but also to a trustworthy, overarching government framework of strong rules and effective oversight.”
Rural communities will also “lose disproportionately when the Environmental Commissioner closes its doors,” she continues. “Resource extraction often happens just across the road from their homes, and so rural communities have been appreciative users of the Environmental Commissioner’s work. More than 90% of rural Ontarians rely on private wells, for example, and are directly affected when groundwater quality and quantity is mismanaged. The Environmental Commissioner has drawn attention to multiple systemic problems with groundwater management in Ontario, and has tracked the topic over the years.”