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State of Ontario's climate policy is 'frightening,' watchdog says
Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019 11:29AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, March 27, 2019 3:51PM EDT
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe releases a report at the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on Tuesday, January 30, 2018. The report examined how Ontario was meeting it's environmental targets. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO -- Ontario's environmental commissioner issued dire warnings Wednesday about the "frightening" state of climate policy in the province as she delivered her office's last report.
The Progressive Conservative government announced last fall that it was eliminating the office of the environmental commissioner and merging its functions with the auditor general. In delivering a report on energy conservation, Dianne Saxe said Ontario is heading in the wrong direction on the environment.
"At a time when climate damage is accelerating, Ontario is turning away from the things that we know work," she said, describing the government's climate policy as "very inadequate, very frightening."
"On the big things that will reduce our climate pollution, allow Canada to fulfil its role under the Paris agreement and show the poorer countries of the world that are suffering the greater damage that we are going to do our part, we are causing great damage."
Saxe is critical of the government's cancellation of a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases, as well as the cancellation of electricity conservation programs and a growth plan that she says increases urban sprawl and therefore reliance on transportation fuels.
"I think that what we're doing in Ontario and what we may do in Canada this year puts the entire Paris Agreement at risk," she said, referring to the federal Conservatives' opposition to the upcoming carbon tax.
"If the world can't hold together on the Paris Agreement we are toasted, roasted and grilled."
The 2015 Paris Agreement sets a target of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2 C, or 1.5 C if possible.
Saxe was critical of the government's recent cancellation of a slew of electricity conservation programs, including rebates for energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment, discounts for buying energy-efficient products such as LED light bulbs, incentives for builders to improve energy performance in new residences, and refrigeration equipment upgrade incentives.
Since 2007, Ontario has made valuable progress in conserving electricity and some progress in conserving natural gas, and without those programs the province would be emitting about six megatonnes more each year in carbon dioxide equivalents, she said.
The government's environment plan doesn't even mention electricity conservation, Saxe said, and abandoning it would increase greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by about two megatonnes.
Environment Minister Rod Phillips said his climate plan will produce a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the target set by the federal government, without a carbon tax -- which the province continues to rail against.
Phillips said the plan focuses conservation efforts on natural gas instead of electricity.
"We're adding conservation programs around areas that actually produce greenhouse gases, like natural gas production," he said. "The conservation programs related to electricity largely are affecting programs that come from our electricity grid, which because of nuclear power, because of renewables, because of hydro, doesn't produce a great deal of greenhouse gas."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said reports and comments like the ones Wednesday from the environmental commissioner are why the government got rid of Saxe's office.
"They don't want to hear what it takes and what's necessary to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets," she said. "Instead, they just want to continue along their merry way and not take seriously our responsibilities when it comes to climate change."
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner called it a "tragic loss" to no longer have a standalone officer to report on facts and evidence that members of the legislature need to make sound policy decisions.
Premier Doug Ford had promised that not a single job would be lost under his government, but Saxe said this move has meant 12 people are losing their jobs, including her.
Ontario's climate plan will see the province spend $400 million over four years on a fund called the Ontario Carbon Trust, which aims to entice companies to invest in initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is also proposing making large industrial companies pay for pollution if they exceed certain emissions standards -- a system critics say is the same as the federal carbon tax the province has fought for months.