Carbon Cents and Sensibility: What Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan Really Means

We’ve seen both pride and prejudice in the weeks leading up to the release of Ontario’s five year climate action plan. The consultation and pending rollout of the province’s cap-and-trade system, the presentation of legislation to support climate action measures, and the untimely leak of cabinet documents created high drama and left stakeholders and opposition parties in need of persuasion.

But with the release of the full plan, any lingering fear or uneasiness should be replaced by a sense of accomplishment. Ontario is proposing is a sensible strategy to reduce emissions, and one that allows the province to actually meet its legislated emissions reduction goals—a fairly unique position. Only Ontario’s neighbour to the east, Quebec, has something similar to Ontario’s climate action plan.

Ontario’s climate advantage began in 2014 with the shuttering of the last coal plant in the province. Considered the biggest environmental act to date in North America, the province was able to slash its emissions by approximately 34 megatonnes. Add to that policies and programs that incentivized renewable energy projects, and Ontario became home to the most substantial investment in clean energy in the country—more than $12.8 billion from 2010 to 2014. Perhaps it is not surprising then to hear Alberta making similar commitments—to eliminate coal and increase renewable power generation—as part of its climate leadership plans.

Ontario’s plan contains the sorts of things that excite climate experts: using public money to leverage private investments in clean energy (while protecting the taxpayer from risk) through the establishment of a ‘green bank’, low-carbon fuel standards, electric vehicle incentives and charging stations, money for energy efficiency and retrofits for homes and businesses. What this plan doesn’t propose is that we kick the fossil fuel habit any time soon—and, perhaps surprisingly, data from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project supports that call.

Created as a roadmap for countries to reform their economies by 2050 and dramatically reduce the negative effects of climate change, the Pathways Project still predicts the presence of natural gas (with carbon capture and storage), coal, and oil in Canada’s energy mix for electricity generation, for some heat and industrial processes, and for heavy duty transport.  Ontario has, at least in the short term, accepted this reality and hasn’t proposed radical shifts away from fossil fuels—choosing instead to boost lower-carbon options. Ontario is embarking on an energy transition, not a revolution.

And why shouldn’t we? Ontario has the largest and fastest-growing cleantech sector in Canada—according to its own Climate Change Strategy, the Ontario government touts that 36 per cent of the nation’s cleantech companies with proprietary technologies are here.

Yes climate action is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but this isn’t just about inflicting pain with regulatory sticks.It can also be achieved through the strategic use of carrots—with programs that build  on Ontario’s record investments in clean energy and clean technologies and leveraging that expertise to create cost-savings for homeowners and businesses alike.

It’s the kind of carbon cents and sensibility we should be aiming for, and Ontario’s climate action plan hits the mark.

Ontario's Five Year Climate Action Plan graphic
Read Ontario’s Climate Action Plan [PDF]
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