Broadening Ontario's Climate Change Policy Agenda

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In May, 2010, the ECO released its second Annual Report on the progress of activities in Ontario to reduce or make more efficient use of electricity, natural gas, propane, oil and transportation fuels. Click here for more information on this report, including videos and communications materials.



This report represents the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s (ECO’s) second Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report. Under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993, the ECO is responsible for reporting annually to the Speaker of the Assembly on the progress of activities in Ontario to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fulfilling this mandate, the ECO is to review any annual report on greenhouse gas reductions or climate change published by the government in the year covered by the ECO report. In December 2009, the ECO released our first progress report less than a week after the release of the government’s Climate Change Action Plan Annual Report 2008-09. The ECO has subsequently decided, however, that the public interest would be better served if our annual greenhouse gas progress reports are issued in the spring. By moving to a later release, the ECO will be in a better position to more thoroughly fulfill our reporting mandate.

This report contains a brief summary of greenhouse gas emissions data that has become available since December 2009. The data comes from the April 2010 release of Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report, published as part of Canada’s reporting commitments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. According to Canada’s 2010 National Inventory Report, Ontario’s total greenhouse gas emissions for 2008 were 190.3 megatonnes as measured on a carbon dioxide equivalent basis. This amount represents a five per cent reduction from the 200 megatonnes reported for 2007 in the same National Inventory Report.

At this point, the ECO has no information to conclude that any of the decreases reflected between 2007 and 2008 in four of the six sectors (transportation, industry, buildings and agricultural) result from Climate Change Action Plan initiatives. In the electricity sector where greenhouse gas emissions have declined, the ECO attributes these reductions to the continued winding down of coal use at the four remaining power plants using this fuel. Given that the Climate Change Action Plan was formally launched only in 2007 and that the data presented is from 2008, it would be unreasonable to assume that any significant reductions could be attributed to measures taken within a one-year timeframe.

In our Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2008/2009, the ECO raised several areas in need of further policy development. The majority of this current report is devoted to broadening the climate change policy agenda. In particular, this report provides a discussion of greenhouse gas targets and the need to revisit them on the basis of recent scientific evidence indicating that, at current carbon dioxide equivalent concentrations in excess of 390 parts per million, the global community is moving dangerously close to a key tipping point.

This report also discusses the implications of Ontario Power Generation’s plans to use biomass as a renewable energy source at its four coal-fired generating stations. While the ECO supports this idea in principle, further analysis needs to be done. The ECO sees a pressing need for further time-sensitive modelling of overall forest carbon levels in order to assess the assumption of “carbon neutrality” in the context of Ontario Power Generation’s plans to use wood pellets as a fuel source.

In previous reports, the ECO has strongly supported the government’s stated intention to establish a process for verifying Climate Change Action Plan results. In addition to verifying the accuracy of the data that will be reported, the ECO has also stressed the need for verification of processes that are in place to ensure that roles and responsibilities of key line ministries and related agencies are clear and that accountabilities for Climate Change Action Plan results are public and transparent.

Recognizing the nearly one-third share that the transportation sector represents both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and the consumption of energy in Ontario, this report discusses the role that road pricing could play as a transportation demand management tool to ease traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and related criteria air contaminants while providing much-needed revenues to fund an expanded public transit network.

This report also broadens the policy discussion in terms of how to put a price on carbon to send a clear and transparent price signal into the marketplace. The ECO notes that the Ontario government’s public consultation process on carbon pricing to date has focused only on one policy instrument: cap-and-trade. The ECO believes there is a need for a reasoned and balanced discussion comparing and contrasting emissions trading and a carbon tax in terms of their efficacy in ensuring carbon price discovery in the economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations designed to assist the government in achieving its two key Climate Change Action Plan objectives: the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the transition to a low-carbon economy.



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Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2010. Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2009/2010: Broadening Ontario's Climate Change Policy Agenda. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. pp. 1-2

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