The Ontario government will soon introduce a regulatory plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the province, but won’t commit to achieving reductions in line with Canada’s targets under the Paris climate agreement.
Environment Minister Rod Phillips said the Progressive Conservative government will replace the cap-and-trade system with a series of measures, including regulations, aimed at tackling emissions while avoiding burdensome costs on consumers and businesses.
However, he acknowledged the regulations in the Tory plan will come with a price tag.
“When you have something as important as climate change – and we all agree there is a problem, where we disagree is on the solution – one should expect there is going to be a cost in tackling any tough problem,” Mr. Phillips said in a telephone interview.
A coalition of 37 environmental groups released a letter to Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday, urging the government to commit to the GHG targets set in legislation by the previous Liberal government, which would see emissions drop by 37.5 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. And they called on the government to “table a detailed, scientifically sound plan to meet these legislated goals as soon as possible."
The new government is currently passing legislation that will formally kill the cap-and-trade carbon pricing plan established by former premier Kathleen Wynne, which set a limit on emissions for fuel distributors and large industry but allowed them to buy and sell allowances in order to reduce the overall cost of emission reductions.
Under the legislation, the government must prepare a climate plan, set a target for emission reductions and report regularly on the progress being made to meet that goal.
Mr. Phillips noted the existing Ontario target is more aggressive than the federal one of a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, a commitment first set by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2015 and adopted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau under the Paris climate accord.
The Ontario Environment Minister would not endorse the Paris target. A less ambitious target would reduce the anticipated costs to consumers and businesses.
“We’ll bring our target forward when we bring our plan forward,” he said. “The best approach is to have a plan and then any targets as part of the plan.”
Environmental activists worry the Progressive Conservative government will drag its feet in introducing a new plan, set unambitious targets and only modest, low-cost measures.
“Ambitious targets are critical to having a plan that works,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, an umbrella organization representing church, labour and environmental groups.
“It is irresponsible to come out with a bill that will wipe out all of Ontario’s existing climate policies and have nothing in the wings to replace them,” she said.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna argues carbon pricing is the most economically efficient method of reducing greenhouse gases when complemented by regulations and incentives because it allows the market to direct capital to low-cost solutions. Her view is shared by many environmental economists and business leaders who have endorsed carbon pricing.
Mr. Phillips, however, said he is convinced that carbon pricing will not achieve the sought-for result, because it will require a price far higher than the $50 a tonne level set by Ottawa for 2022 in order to persuade consumers and businesses to reduce their energy consumption, or find other ways to cut emissions. The Ontario government is joined in its opposition to carbon taxes by Saskatchewan and conservative opposition politicians in Ottawa and Alberta.
The minister offered no timeline as to when the government would be ready to put forward a plan but said he hoped to be able to work with his federal counterpart to ensure companies are not burdened with costs from the two levels of government.