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Ontario needs to broaden its climate change policy reach

Monday, May 31st 2010 10:20:05am

Ontario needs to broaden its climate change policy reach

Toronto, May 31, 2010 - The Ontario government will need to expand its climate change policy agenda if it hopes to have any chance of reaching its short- and medium-term greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets.  This is one conclusion in a report released today by Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller. The report, entitled Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2010: Broadening Ontario's Climate Change Policy Agenda, identifies several key policy priorities for the government to ensure that it can stay on track to meet its reduction targets.  This GHG Progress Report expands on a report released last December.

"I support the government's current initiatives involving a cap-and-trade system; it is one way to put a price on carbon. But we need to put the right price on carbon emissions to ensure that a clear and transparent price signal is conveyed to consumers," said Mr. Miller. "Additionally, the government needs to keep all its policy options open, and have a transparent public dialogue to explore other possibilities (such as a carbon tax) in case a cap-and-trade system fails to materialize."  

Recognizing that the transportation sector is the largest single producer of GHG emissions in Ontario, the report calls for a serious and comprehensive assessment of how road pricing can assist in reducing GHGs and making public transit a more attractive option.  "Our report documents the significant environmental, social and economic benefits that many other jurisdictions across the globe have realized by putting a price on road use," Miller stated.  "And, it's not just about gridlock and congestion, serious though these problems may be. Transit funding must be found - through road tolls if necessary - to make the commuting decision to use transit that much easier."

The report also contains a key recommendation designed to ensure that Ontario continues to show leadership in the areas of GHG target setting. In light of the growing recognition in the scientific community that global atmospheric CO2 levels are reaching a dangerous tipping point, the report urges the government to conduct a public review of its GHG targets to set more aggressive reduction objectives.  

- 30 -

For more information contact:

Hayley Easto, Communications & Outreach Coordinator,
416-325-3371 or hayley.easto@eco.on.ca
Report is available at www.eco.on.ca            

Aussi disponible en français.


BACKGROUNDER

Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993, the ECO has a responsibility to report annually to the Speaker of the Assembly on the progress of activities in Ontario to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On May 31, 2010, the ECO released its second annual greenhouse gas progress report entitled Broadening Ontario's Climate Change Policy Agenda.

Context

In 2007, the Ontario government established three targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions as part of its Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP). The government's targets are:

• 6 per cent below 1990 levels of GHG emissions by 2014;
• 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020; and
• 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.  

In our first Annual Report (released in December 2009), the ECO forecast that, in the absence of further initiatives, the government will fall short of its 2014 and 2020 GHG emission reduction targets. The ECO concluded that additional policy options must be developed if the government is to have any chance of reaching its short- and medium-term GHG reduction targets.

In this report, the ECO reviews several strategic policy areas with a view to broaden the climate change policy discussion. In particular, the ECO believes there needs to be a public dialogue regarding the short- to medium-term targets that have been set. Climate scientists are now calling for reductions of 25 to 40 per cent by 2020, rather than the 15 per cent currently established by the Ontario government.

Further, the ECO stresses the need to put a clear and transparent price on carbon to influence the energy choices consumers make in the marketplace. By putting a price on carbon, consumers become more aware of the significant costs to society, and the broader environment, of carbon-based pollution. The ECO supports the government's current efforts to develop a cap-and-trade system as one method to bring about this price discovery. The report recommends, however, that the government "keep all its policy options open" by engaging in a dialogue with the public on other mechanisms that could be used. These may include, for example, a revenue neutral carbon tax or levy.

The report documents the environmental, social and economic benefits that other jurisdictions around the world have gained through road pricing. The report notes that the transportation sector is responsible for fully one-third of Ontario's GHGs and a similar portion of the province's fossil fuel use.  Road pricing options could lead the way in not only reducing gridlock, congestion and GHG pollution but in also providing a much-needed revenue stream to fund increased public transit. In the face of record deficits at both the federal and provincial levels, other funding options must be found. Focused on the Toronto region, a recent report by the Toronto Board of Trade (TBT) highlights the urgency with which sources of funding must be found to build-out the transit infrastructure envisaged in Metrolinx's regional transportation plan: The Big Move. The Board of Trade identifies road pricing, including road tolls and congestion charges, as important options to be considered.  
        
Two remaining recommendations in the ECO report focus on: 1) how the government will move forward in documenting and verifying, in a transparent manner, the CCAP's success in achieving results; and, 2) the need for a review of Ontario Power Generation's underlying assumptions that the use of forest wood fibre as a replacement fuel at the province's four remaining coal-fired power stations does not contribute to short-term increases in GHG emissions.

The ECO offers these recommendations with the clear understanding that some are strategic in nature and will require time for public consultation and review.

Recommendations

Review Climate Change Action Plan targets

The ECO recommends that the Ontario government undertake a formal public review of its Climate Change Action Plan greenhouse gas targets in light of scientific evidence indicating concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are unacceptably high.

Assess both carbon trading and carbon tax

The ECO recommends that the Ontario government undertake a formal public review to compare emissions trading and a carbon tax in terms of their efficacy in providing a transparent price signal to the economy.

Assess public transit targets

The ECO recommends that Metrolinx develop planning scenarios and interim dates to achieve a more ambitious transit modal share target for 2031.

Ensure ministry responsibilities are clear and transparent

The ECO recommends that a CCAP verification process ensure that the responsibilities of key line ministries are clear and transparent and that accountabilities for results are clearly articulated.

Assess assumptions of carbon neutrality with regard to biomass as a feedstock for coal plants

The ECO recommends that Ontario Power Generation complete a comprehensive assessment of the assumption of carbon neutrality with respect to plans to use biomass as a feedstock in its coal-fired generating stations.