Opinion

Ontarians are paying for climate change. They deserve a plan

Ontarians awoke to a cold reality check Tuesday morning—in a province that’s literally heating up.

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe didn’t mince words in her 2018 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report when she stated the size of the problem. The province is warming faster than the global average—Ontario is 1.5°C hotter than it was in 1948—with no clear plan in place to address the challenge.

This rapid warming can significantly increase the likeliness of extreme weather events, which plagued the province in 2018—and which in the first months of this year inflicted nearly $1 billion in insured damage and another $1 billion in uninsured damage.

Here’s some perspective any Ontarian can understand: that’s roughly the value of the entire Toronto Maple Leafs franchise.

Which is one thing if we have insurance to cover those costs. But with the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimating that about one in ten Canadian properties will soon be too high risk to be insured, some Ontarians will have to foot the bill. Simply put, with no plan B in place to address climate change, more and more Ontarians will be left holding the (money) bag.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Increased risk also represents a significant opportunity for Ontarians. As the report notes, climate action isn’t about what you lose—it’s about the job, economic, and health benefits you gain.

In 2017, there were 5,000 companies in Ontario’s cleantech sector employing 130,000 people and generating about $20 billion in revenue each year. These companies benefited from the province’s cap and trade system. Will they all stay in an Ontario without a climate plan?

Analysis of the province’s now defunct Climate Change Action Plan showed the plan, including cap and trade, was working. Ontario’s emissions were 10% lower in 2016 than they were in 1990. Just over half of that was thanks to the coal phase-out, but there were further reductions to carbon pollution that continued afterward.

The cap and trade program went beyond cutting emissions. It funded more than 500 clean projects, including improving energy efficiency for cities and towns, social housing, and hospitals—cost-saving programs that are now cut.

Indeed, the report says these programs would have saved $60 million in energy costs across Ontario’s 98 hospitals, money that could be better spent on patient care. This program would have also helped low-income Ontarians save money on heating and let schools invest in teaching students instead of running their buildings.

What’s more, Ontario’s electricity demand is predicted to increase over time. The Ontario government’s decision to scrap 752 renewable energy contracts does not leave the province with enough renewable options to fill that growing demand.

Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks Rod Phillips said the province plans “to have an emissions-reductions fund to fight climate change”—but he hasn’t yet gone into details. Phillips and his team have promised to put forward a plan later this fall after a planned consultation process.

We don’t know what the Government of Ontario plans to put forward, but we do know that a good climate plan needs the following:

  • A price on GHG emissions to incentivize innovation and deter emissions.
  • Solid regulations to guide industry.
  • Investments to help Ontarians lower their carbon footprint and their energy bills.

We’re glad the Ontario government recognizes the need to fight climate change, but realization without action takes the province nowhere as Ontarians pay more and more for the impacts of climate change.

Commissioner Saxe’s report asks a poignant question on its title page: “What’s next?”

It’s clear that Ontarians need an answer—and it needs to be a substantial one.