Ontario quietly revises its plan for hitting climate change targets

Ontario quietly revises its plan for hitting climate change targets

Premier Doug Ford’s government has quietly revised its plan to meet Ontario’s 2030 targets for cutting carbon emissions.

The new forecast for the province’s greenhouse gas emissions posted to a government website shows some significant departures from the reductions earmarked in the “Made in Ontario Plan for the Environment” in 2018.

The new plan does not include any reductions from greater uptake of electric vehicles, which accounted for nearly 15 per cent of the projected cuts to CO2 emissions in the government’s 2018 plan.

Also missing from the new forecast: any mention of the Ontario Carbon Trust, which the government previously touted as a significant source of emissions reductions. It was announced in 2018 as a $ 400-million fund to help the private sector develop clean technologies, but never materialized.

Natural gas conservation forecast in the 2018 plan to bring about a 2.3 megatonnes (MT) reduction of CO2 emissions has been shrunk to almost nothing in the new plan: 0.03 MT

Although the Ford government unveiled its 2018 environment plan with a splash, it did not issue a news release about its new emissions forecast. CBC News asked Environment Minister David Piccini for an interview in the days leading up to the Easter long weekend, but he was not available.

This is the Ford government’s new forecast for how it expects to reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks)

Despite the revisions, the new forecast still shows Ontario achieving a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

“The province remains steadfast in its commitment to meet the 2030 emissions reduction target and is confident in the plan and trajectory to get there,” says the new document.

The revised forecast notes that Ontario has already achieved “greater reductions of greenhouse gas emissions than any other province or territory in Canada.”

Those reductions came about almost entirely through initiatives from previous Liberal governments – most notably ending Ontario’s use of coal-fired electricity generation. By the time the Ford government came to power in 2018, the province was already two-thirds of the way toward meeting that 2030 target.

The government may be helped along the way by the pandemic. Ontario’s 2020 emissions showed the sharpest year-to-year drop since the 2008-09 recession kneecapped the manufacturing industry: 16 MT lower than 2019, according to federal figures released this weekin large part because of drivers commuting less and travelers flying less.

Ontario’s new forecast predicts it will hit its 2030 target by reducing emissions by 12 MT from current levels.

Those reductions would come primarily from three sources:

  • Greater renewable content in gasoline.
  • Stricter emissions standards for heavy industry.
  • The steel industry’s planned shift away from coal-fired furnaces.

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, says the vast bulk of the province’s planned emission reductions are being driven either by federal regulations or by programs that Ottawa is helping pay for.

“The Ford government is basically coasting on previous actions taken by Ontario governments and current actions being taken by the federal government,” Stewart said in an interview.

“Ontario seems to be saying, ‘We will do whatever the federal government either makes us do or pays for, and nothing more.’ And that is not nearly good enough in the face of a climate crisis, “Stewart added.

Ottawa’s clean fuels mandate requires gasoline and diesel suppliers to reduce the carbon intensity of fuel. Ontario is achieving that in large part by upping the minimum ethanol content in gasoline to 15 per cent.

According to figures the Environment Ministry provided to CBC News, the “green steel” transition, funded in part by the federal and provincial governments, is forecast to bring about a 5.1 MT reduction of emissions, while the gasoline renewable content and heavy industry standards would combine for a 5.35 MT reduction. The ministry did not provide a breakdown between those two initiatives.

This graphic shows the greenhouse gas emission reductions the Ford government forecast back in 2018 in its Plan for the Environment. (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks)

There are far smaller emissions reductions forecast from less food waste dumped in landfills (0.97 MT) greater use of transit (0.58 MT) and conservation of natural gas (0.03MT).

The government’s plan is working, said Piccini’s press secretary Phillip Robinson said in an email to CBC News.

“This has been done while ensuring that our approach is flexible to the opportunities, needs, and circumstances facing job creators and not harmful to Ontario’s economic growth,” Robinson wrote.

The three-page document laying out Ontario’s new plan for emission reductions doesn’t mention climate change, something that Stewart says is telling.

“This plan is about meeting federal requirements, not addressing the climate crisis, because the Ford government doesn’t recognize it as a crisis,” he said.

The Trudeau government unveiled a plan last month for a 40 per cent reduction in Canada’s emissions from the 2005 benchmark. However, Ontario is sticking with the 30 per cent target, which Canada committed to under the legally binding Paris Agreement in 2016.

Dianne Saxe, the Green Party of Ontario’s deputy leader, says the government’s forecast has no credibility.

“It hides even more details than the groundless numbers in the last Ford forecast,” said Saxe in a news release.

“Doug Ford is doing nothing on the climate emergency,” she added.

“To do nothing on the greatest issue of our time is an insult to our children and future generations.”

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