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Ontario failing in climate-change fight, environment watchdog says

The third of four smokestacks, known as the Four Sisters, at a the defunct coal-fired plant in Mississauga crumbles during a controlled demolition June 12, 2006.

Mike Cassese/Reuters

Ontario is falling behind in the battle against global warming and is on track to miss its long-term targets for cutting greenhouse gases.

That stark warning from Environment Commissioner Gord Miller Wednesday came the same day that the Liberal government patted itself on the back for phasing out coal-fired power plants – the largest single cut to emissions on the continent.

However, Mr. Miller said the province has done virtually nothing else to fight climate change. "We really have achieved nothing beyond the coal closures," he said. "In fact, we've gone backwards in some areas."

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While Ontario will reach its goal this year of cutting emissions 6 per cent below 1990 levels, Mr. Miller said, emissions are actually set to grow in the next six years. The province will miss its 2020 targeted cuts by nearly 20 per cent without urgent action.

Ontario was once a leader on the environment front but is now falling behind Quebec and British Columbia, which have brought in various systems to cut back on fossil fuels, he said. Quebec, for instance, uses a cap-and-trade system to limit the amount of carbon discharged into the air. But Ontario has not implemented anything similar.

"The first step is to leap to the fore and join the rest of the crew. How long have we been playing with the concept of cap and trade in the industrial sector? How many promises, how many negotiations have we gone through for the last seven years?" Mr. Miller said. "We should just get on with it, get with the pack. We have some catch-up to do."

The province has actually cut back its targeted emission reductions in the transportation sector, Mr. Miller said, and must take tougher measures to cut greenhouse gases from vehicles. Electrifying trains would be one step, he said.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, who held a press conference on Wednesday to re-announce her government's plan to table a bill that will ban the future use of coal-fired power plants, vowed to do more in the coming years to fight global warming.

"We will be looking for ways of making further advances," she said on the green roof of a YMCA in downtown Toronto after meeting with a group of young children.

Environment Minister Glen Murray pointed to plans to electrify the GO regional rail network and add more trains as one move that will curb emissions.

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"Those shifts we're going through now … will be some of the biggest shifts on our transportation platform," he said, sporting a white T-shirt reading "Coal Free Generation" under his sports coat. "Those things were not part of our conversation in a big way more than 12 months ago."

The Liberals initially promised in 2003 to end coal-fired power by 2007. It took them more than twice that long, however: The last coal plants closed only at the end of last year.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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