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Considering Ontario’s Climate Change Solution

Words by 3p Contributor
Leadership & Transparency
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By Emma Bailey

World governments must begin to reckon with the worsening climate crisis. Certain nations have taken broader steps than others to implement measures designed to mitigate the effects of our current greenhouse gas pollution trajectory. Canada has been a leader in these efforts, and the province of Ontario is no exception. The cabinet of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne solidified a five-year action plan to promote clean energy and support the long-term shift to a low-carbon economy.

Critics, of course, came forth with statements saying the estimated $7 billion Climate Change Action Plan is unduly expensive and will devastate the economy. But a close examination of economic data suggests that the expenditures will represent much less than 1 percent of the province's GDP. For this minuscule investment, the plan aims to cut CO2 emissions by 15 percent below1990 levels by 2020. By 2050, the province projects its emissions will be 80 percent below the 1990 baseline.

Even given the penchant for politicians to perhaps overestimate the positive consequences of their proposals, these results -- even if only partially or fractionally achieved -- are nothing to sneeze at. They are a solid beginning to meeting Canada's obligations under the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and signed by 177 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change this year.

In early June, the Ontario government passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low Carbon Economy Act. This core piece of legislation stands as a foundational text for putting the broader climate change strategy into action. The law sets up a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that is expected to go live early next year and raise almost $2 billion annually for the government of Ontario. This revenue won't just come out of thin air; pundits predict that the additional costs imposed will amount to about $13 per resident, per month.

Progressive Conservatives, while accepting the need to lower emissions, contend that this scheme will increase the cost of living while giving politicians additional financial resources to possibly misuse. The law also saw opposition from the president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which objects to government intervention in industries such as automobile production and energy, as well as the household heating decisions of millions of homeowners.

Making the proposals seem more sinister is the fact that they were first revealed to the public at large only when the Globe and Mail newspaper got its hands on confidential cabinet papers earlier in May. However, it is necessary to point out that Quebec already has a cap-and-trade market running, and Manitoba is expected to join shortly. So, this paradigm has supporters all across Canada (not to mention within the United States of America).

Ontario expects to generate approximately $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion Canadian (around US$1.4 billion) per year in proceeds from its cap-and-trade program, storing them in a new "Green Bank." The province will use C$100 million in cap-and-trade proceeds over four years to support the introduction of "renewable" natural gas. A source from Alberta Oil Magazine has commented saying that this is a type of biofuel which harnesses the energy from by-product gas that would otherwise be vented - landfill gas, sewage gas, etc. "Renewable" natural gas is therefore more sustainable than gas which comes from fracking. EnergyTrendsInsider has spoken on the subject as well saying, "That's a good use of waste, but the supply is pretty limited. Natural gas, period, helps. [But] I wouldn't limit it to renewable natural gas."

Many of those who feel that natural gas has a place in a well-balanced, clean-energy mix are disappointed. While these new rules will likely lead to reduced levels of emissions across both private households and commercial facilities, concerns about energy costs remain paramount. Some estimates contend that it will cost ordinary families at least $3,000 per year more to heat their homes under the provisions of the plan.

Alberta, which produces and sells significant quantities of natural gas, isn't happy. According to figures from a researcher at the University of Calgary, Ontario residents now use about 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day for heating purposes – about the same amount as Alberta sells to Ontario daily. Billions will be spent to expand the use of solar, geothermal and other electric heating solutions. New buildings will be heated by means other than fossil fuels by 2030, and by 2050, this rule will be extended to all buildings, new or old.

The province will also use cap-and-trade proceeds to attempt to drive the adoption of electric vehicles with a program of tax breaks and rebate incentives of up to $14,000 per qualifying vehicle. At the same time, the government will pay for the construction of charging stations. The goal is for 12 percent of new vehicles sold in Ontario to be electric by 2025. Thus, the Liberal government of Premier Wynne has its sights set on transportation, one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and indeed the entire planet. The amount of money being thrown around means that the auto industry in Ontario will see dramatic changes -- leading to additional worries about governmental interference in the free market system.

Ontario's new plan to manage its carbon footprint has garnered widespread acclaim along with pockets of criticism. This is perhaps inevitable; the broad, sweeping nature of the agenda almost ensures that plenty of people and organizations will find bones to pick with certain parts of it. It's important to not become distracted by trivialities or the claims of special-interest groups. Taken as a whole, the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan is one of the most ambitious and serious efforts to conserve the planet that has ever been issued by any provincial government.

Image credit: Flickr/Tony Webster

Emma Bailey is a freelance writer and blogger from the Midwest. After going to college in Florida she relocated to Chicago, where she now lives with a roommate and two rabbits. She primarily covers entertainment topics and issues pertaining to the environment.

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