Ontario will scale back its climate-change targets and focus on regulating industrial greenhouse gas emitters, the province said Thursday as the government unveiled its environmental plan.
The new strategy will make it harder for Canada to meet commitments made under the Paris climate accord. The federal government was relying on Ontario’s more aggressive approach under the former Liberal provincial government, which implemented a cap-and-trade system.
Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips announced the province would create regulations for industrial emitters, support business investment in innovation and clean technology, and increase the ethanol content for gasoline to 15 per cent from 10 per cent by 2025.
He said the government would consult with industry before determining how the regulation system would work, the degree to which individual facilities would have to reduce emissions and what kind of enforcement mechanism would be used to ensure compliance.
Premier Doug Ford continues to battle Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the federal carbon tax that will commence next April in provinces that do not have a broad-based levy that meets Ottawa’s standards. With an election scheduled for next fall, the Trudeau government is seeking to ease the burden on consumers by sending out rebate cheques next spring for anticipated 2019 costs.
Mr. Phillips said Ontario aims to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, which is the same target adopted by Ottawa for the country as a whole under the 2015 Paris agreement. But it is far less ambitious than the goal set by the former Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne.
“This target takes into consideration the commitment the people of Ontario have already shown in reducing emissions, as well as our commitment to growing Ontario’s economy while doing our part to tackle climate change,” Mr. Phillips told a news conference at the Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton, north of Toronto.
The province is already three-quarters of the way to hitting that goal, largely as the result of the closure of coal-fired power plants. Mr. Phillips said Ontario has already made considerable progress in reducing greenhouse gas emission, and households and business have paid a substantial price in doing so.
Nationally, Canada faces an uphill battle to meet its targets as emissions in Alberta and Saskatchewan have soared since 2005 and are still rising. The Trudeau government had been counting on more ambitious efforts by Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia to make up for slower progress in the two prairie provinces that rely heavily on oil and gas production and coal-fired electricity.
In Ontario, the former Liberal government committed the province to reducing greenhouse gases by 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. The difference between the Progressive Conservative 2030 target and the former Liberal one is 30-megatonnes, an amount equivalent to the emission in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined.
“It is absolutely true that Kathleen Wynne’s targets were greater than our targets," Mr. Phillips said. "It’s also true that she was going to be charging Ontarians $2-billion a year in a carbon tax, and it’s also true that many many observers thought that there was no way she was going to reach those targets.”
The previous government had adopted a cap-and-trade system that set limits on emissions and required companies to purchase emission allowances, either from the province itself or from California and Quebec. It was spending the proceeds of that cap-and-trade auctions on a number of energy efficiency and low-carbon initiatives for homeowners, schools, municipalities and businesses.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the Ontario government is taking a step backward in Canada’s battle to reduce emissions.
“It’s really disappointing to see Premier Ford undo Ontario’s climate action progress,” she said. “Any serious climate plan includes a price on pollution. When pollution is free, there will be more of it.”
The emissions plan is part of broader environmental strategy that Mr. Phillips unveiled Thursday. While promising vigilance on water and air pollution, it also features a series of measures to help the province adapt to a changing climate and extreme weather events, including a provincewide assessment of the risks posed to communities, critical infrastructure, the economy and the environment.
While key details are not yet known, Ontario’s proposed regulations on large emitters appears to resemble similar efforts from Saskatchewan and even the federal government. In order to protect industrial competitiveness, the regulations aim to provide incentives for large companies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions without taxing the total amount of greenhouse gases produced. The federal government has agreed to recognize Saskatchewan’s regulations rather than impose its own.