2005 Update on Climate Change
For nearly 20 years, scientists, governments, industry and citizens around the world have been considering ways to reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a phenomenon likely to lead to dangerous interference in the earth’s climatic, atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns – otherwise known as climate change. In 2005, the Kyoto Protocol, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, came into force, and the need for clarity about a plan of action became more pressing for many countries, including Canada. Accordingly, the ECO requested an update from various provincial ministries about their recent work on the climate change issue.
Ministry of the Environment
On February 16, 2005, MOE issued a media release saying the Ontario government was taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to help Canada meet its targets. They include:
- replacing coal-fired generation with cleaner sources of power. The Lakeview Generating Station will cease burning coal by the end of April 2005 (other coal-fired stations are slated to close by 2007).
- issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for 2500 megawatts of clean energy supply and almost 400 megawatts of new renewable supply.
- working to reduce electricity demand across the province by 5 per cent by 2007.
- releasing its five-point action plan to reduce industrial emissions of smog-causing pollutants and GHGs.
- signing a May 2004 agreement with the federal government that gets the steel sector to act on climate change and that forms a new partnership to educate the public on the issues of climate change.
- requiring gasoline sold in Ontario to contain an average of 5 per cent ethanol by 2007.
MOE staff subsequently advised ECO staff that the items noted in the February media release could be considered a partial list, i.e., that other items such as hydroelectric development and conservation tillage (a means of reducing carbon loss from soils) could be included as well. MOE also told the ECO that it is the lead ministry and is coordinating a climate change response provincially. To do this, MOE indicated, there are various informal networks of ministry representatives, and deputy ministers from various ministries meet on an as-needed basis. Another network, called the Climate Change Directors Group, includes about 13 senior managers from various ministries and meets on an ad hoc basis. Finally, environment and resource ministers from all the provinces and territories are involved in environmental issues, including climate change, through a federally coordinated body called the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
MOE holds the position that the province is not obliged in a regulatory sense to fulfil any commitments under the Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Kyoto Protocol. Canada is a party to these agreements and therefore holds responsibility for the commitments it makes. Ontario, however, supports ratification of the Protocol and will help Canada meet its obligations.
Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions 1990-2002
Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to an average 6 per cent below 1990 levels during the period 2008 to 2012. This means an emissions reduction of roughly 240 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) will be needed, based on a 2002 federal assessment. Under the projected “business as usual” path, Canada’s GHG emissions would reach 808 Mt CO2e in 2010, according to this same assessment. To be in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, Canada needs to reduce its emissions to 571 Mt CO2e for that year. More recent figures suggest the gap could be as high as 300 Mt. (The term “equivalent” is used since greenhouse gases have different global warming potentials (GWP), and therefore emissions are often converted to their equivalent in carbon dioxide, which has been assigned a GWP value of 1.)
MOE believes that the closure of Ontario’s coal-fired generating stations could yield an emission reduction of as much as 35-40 Mt. MOE notes that it can be hard to estimate actual reductions because assumptions need to be made about what will replace the coal-fired electricity generation, e.g., wind power, natural gas, or some blend. MOE attempts to forecast the outcome of its policies – for instance, closing the coal-fired stations – to the best of its ability, before such program decisions are made. MOE also approaches air emissions reduction initiatives from the standpoint of a “multi-pollutant approach,” meaning that any potential initiatives are analysed according to the multiple benefits that could be delivered for a host of pollution problems (e.g., smog, ozone depletion, etc.), not simply for one environmental issue such as climate change. MOE told the ECO that it has not yet set any specific dates or milestones in the near future relating to Ontario’s climate change performance other than the dates and timeframes specified for each individual initiative (e.g., coal station closure, ethanol in gasoline, etc.). The province has not set a specific overall emission reduction target.
The Ministry of Energy reported much of the same information communicated to ECO staff by MOE. ENG put an emphasis on the work that is under way to procure new electricity generating capacity from renewable energy sources like wind turbines and hydroelectric installations.
The ECO also contacted staff at the Management Board Secretariat, since this ministry often creates protocols and coordinates policy for provincial ministries. MBS reported that it is currently focused on meeting the goal of a 10 per cent reduction in electricity consumption by Ontario government operations by 2007, an initiative that should result in some level of GHG emission reduction (see also Building Conservation in Ontario). Provincial ministries were also awaiting details about funding for energy efficiency projects announced in the 2005/2006 federal budget.
The ECO is also aware that other ministries, such as Natural Resources and Municipal Affairs and Housing, have initiatives under way that promote renewable energy such as wind power, and that these initiatives may have greenhouse gas reduction effects.
Based on this review, the ECO feels that Ontario’s approach to the climate change issue seems rather low key. There are no formal, regular meetings or timelines specifically set for assessing and adjusting, as necessary, the province’s performance on climate change. The province has not established an overall greenhouse gas reduction target. However, in February 2005, the Ministry of the Environment presented an illustrative par- tial list of measures that the province was undertaking that would result in some level of greenhouse gas emission reductions when achieved.
The ECO recommends that the government expressly identify a lead ministry so that a provincial strategy can be prepared to help meet Canada’s climate change obligations, and that the ministry be provided with adequate resources.
|This is an article from the 2004/05 Annual Report to the Legislature from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.|
Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2005. "Update: Climate Change." Planning our Landscape, ECO Annual Report, 2004-05. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 59-62.