Doug Ford has begun to dismantle Ontario’s climate leadership – Step 1, exit the cap-and-trade agreement

Doug FordAs a result of the provincial election on June 7, Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford will take power as the premier of Ontario on  June 29, 2018.  Even before that hand-over date, he has begun to make the changes many feared –  announcing on June 15 that Ontario will exit the cap and trade market of the Western Climate Initiative (which includes California and Quebec)  and on June 19,  cancelling the $377-million Green Ontario Fund,  financed by the proceeds of cap-and-trade auctions and which provided consumer incentives for energy efficiency improvements.  On June 21, he committed to keep the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in operation until 2024  –  in the name of protecting 4,500 local jobs and an additional 3,000 jobs province-wide.  Some general articles about the Ford government appeared in The Tyee  “Green hopes, NDP fears, and PC Dreams: The challenges that await Ontario in Ford Nation” (June 15);  “What does a Doug Ford victory mean for the climate?”  in The Narwhal (by DeSmog Canada),  and “Doug Ford’s Environmental policies light on details, advocates say” on CBC News (June 13).

Ford’s decision to end the cap and trade market has many implications – the possibility of lawsuits from investors and companies who had bought carbon credits, as well as a direct confrontation with the federal government, which requires all provinces to enact carbon pricing by 2019, under the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Energy and Climate Change.  Additionally, the federal government  just passed Bill C-74, which includes Part 5: The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act on June 14 , the day before Ford’s announcement.  For discussion of the carbon pricing issue, see  “Ontario’s Doug Ford says the province is abandoning its price on carbon pollution” in the National Observer (June 15) ;  “PC’s will end Ontario cap and trade program, Ford vows” in the Globe and Mail (June 15).  An official reaction from Environmental Defence is here , with more detail in their blog, “What you need to know about Ontario’s carbon pricing drama” . From the Ecofiscal Commission, “Tread Carefully: Ontario’s cap-and-trade system meets a fork in the road” (June 8) , and “Can Ontario hits its targets without carbon pricing?”  (June 21) , which discusses the two remaining options for reducing emissions: regulations and incentives.  Finally,  the arguments are summed up in the Unifor press release, “Unifor urges Premier-designate Doug Ford to maintain the cap and trade system” : “Workers in Ontario need forward-looking policies with the intention to build a green economy, but instead Ford announced his intention to cancel a successful program and pick an unnecessary fight with the federal government…. Workers accept that climate change is real and need our government to lead with a real, predictable plan to reduce emissions and grow green jobs.”

British Columbia sets new GHG reduction targets, reviews environmental assessment process

Amidst the noise and fury of the B.C.-Alberta feud over the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline,  the province of British Columbia is moving forward with reform of its climate change policies. On April 25, the  B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council released a detailed letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy , describing the Council’s principles, supporting much of the government’s current direction, and making recommendations, based on the 2015 recommendations of the province’s Climate Leadership Team. Shortly thereafter, on May 7, a government press release  committed to  a new provincial climate action strategy to be released in autumn 2018, including plans for GHG emission reduction  for buildings and communities, industry and transportation sectors.

With that same press release, the government announced Bill 34, the Climate Change Accountability Act,  which amends the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (2007), repealing the emissions reduction target for 2020 (generally deemed unachievable)  and sets new targets: reduction of GHG’s by 40% from 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050.  Accountability looms large in the responses to Bill 34.  The Pembina Institute  notes the failure of recent GHG emissions reductions, and calls for “a robust accountability mechanism to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself ”. In addition, Pembina notes that any development of emissions-intensive industries, such as liquefied natural gas, would jeopardize the province’s climate progress.

In “Looking for accountability in BC’s Climate Change Accountability Act”,  West Coast Environment Law reviews B.C.’s emissions reduction progress , summarizes responses by other environmental groups to Bill 34, and recommends how the government can incorporate principles of accountability and transparency in its new policies.  Similar concerns are discussed in “A Carbon Budget Framework for BC: Achieving accountability and oversight”  by Marc Lee, in CCPA’s Policy Notes (May 22).

Another policy issue under review in B.C. is environmental assessment, with a 12-member advisory committee appointed in March 2018, a public discussion paper promised for May, and reforms to come in Fall.  The government portal to the “Revitalization” process is here ;  “B.C. Moves Ahead With Review of Controversial Environmental Assessment Process”  (Mar 8) summarizes the situation.   On May 9,  twenty-three environmental, legal, social justice and community organizations released  Achieving Sustainability: A Vision for Next-Generation Environmental Assessment in British Columbia , which calls for an independent environmental assessment body which will involve the public, and require decision-makers to demonstrate that their decisions are based on science and Indigenous knowledge. A summary, with links to more detailed discussion  is provided by West Coast Environmental Law.  Analysis and practical examples are provided by Sarah Cox in  “Time For a Fix: B.C. Looks at Overhaul of Reviews for Mines, Dams and Pipelines”, which  appeared in April in the newly-named newsletter from DeSmog Canada, The Narwhal.

New evidence supports benefits of cap and trade policies – an important issue for Ontario voters

With a June 2018 election approaching in Ontario,  climate change policies and the cap and trade program are already emerging as  key issues.  Several relevant reports have been published since the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario addressed these issues in her audit report,  Ontario’s Climate Act: From Plan to Progress  in January 2018.

The government’s own progress report on the 5-year Climate Change Action Plan was released on March 14  , and includes an evaluation of the policies and projects funded through Ontario’s cap and trade program. One such program is the “Low Carbon Building Skills” initiative announced in August 2017 under the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, which  aims to improve training for low carbon building projects –  including retrofits, green construction and building operations.  Other highlighted initiatives relate to hospital energy efficiency; building and school retrofits; social housing; research into climate change impacts on  building codes.

clean economy alliance progress report ontario year 1A more independent view comes in   A Progress Report on Ontario’s Cap-and-Trade Program and Climate Change Action Plan: Year One ,  published by the Clean Economy Alliance – an alliance of Ontario’s  businesses, clean technology firms, industry associations, labour unions, farmers, health advocates and environmental organizations.   In answering its key question, “Is there any evidence that cap-and-trade has hurt Ontario’s economy or cost jobs?” the report concludes that “Rather than shedding jobs, Ontario added 155,000 jobs between January 2017 and December 2017 – the first year of cap-and-trade. Gains were driven by employment growth in wholesale and retail trade, professional services and manufacturing. Cap-and-trade doesn’t appear to have hurt economic growth either. 2017 marked a 7-year high in Ontario’s GDP growth. Forecasters including RBC, TD Bank and the Conference Board of Canada agree that in 2018, economic growth will slow slightly, but will remain strong.” The report card evaluates impact on emissions reduction, as well as implementation rates by policy area (transportation, buildings and homes, land use planning, and “others”) . It concludes with a brief case study of the incentives for electric vehicles – noting that 2017 was the first year that  more electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in Ontario than in any other province.

On  April 10, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released another relevant report: the 2018 Energy Conservation Progress report, Making Connections: Straight Talk about Electricity in Ontario.  In this statistically-dense report, she acknowledges that the province’s electricity  system was 96 per cent emission-free in 2017, but warns that the province will fall short of its 2030 carbon reduction target unless consumer behaviour changes:  “Looking ahead, much more conservation and low-carbon electricity will be needed to displace fossil fuels as the climate crisis continues to worsen. Ontario is not yet preparing seriously for this future.”

With the explicit purpose of informing the policy discussion before and after the Ontario election in June 2018, Ontario 360  has been established at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, as an “ independent, non-partisan, and fact-based” resource.  On April 18, their first briefing on Climate Policy was published, written by Trevor Tombe, associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary. The briefing reviews the cap-and-trade system and the various initiatives which have been funded by its proceeds, and provides a top-level explanation of the merits of carbon pricing in general, with a comparison of cap and trade and carbon taxes. His conclusion: “while the evidence finds that pricing should be the backbone of any credible climate policy in Ontario, it is not a magic wand. There are areas where it may not be administratively feasible, and therefore narrow complementary policies should also be on the table. And even where pricing is appropriate, reasonable people will disagree over the appropriate price level and coverage. But whatever path forward future governments choose, they should strive for transparency in costs and benefits, clarity in the goals a policy is trying to achieve, and flexibility as new evidence emerges.”

Finally, a related report from the United States was released on April 17, evaluating the economic and environmental impacts of the cap and trade markets of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ( RGGI) in the U.S. from 2015-2017 .  The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States   found that the nine states which form the network  gained $1.4 billion in economic benefits over the past three years because of the way they invested proceeds, with the biggest payoffs (including in new jobs) coming from investments in energy efficiency programs.  In the same period, there has been no damage to the reliability of the electricity grid, nor a net increase in electricity bills.    The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States  was produced by The Analysis Group , who also were responsible for two previous evaluations since the RGGI launched in 2009, available here .

Manitoba joins the Pan-Canadian Framework, leaving Saskatchewan the odd-man-out

Facing a deadline of February 28 to qualify for approximately $67 million in federal funding through the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the province of Manitoba announced on February 23 that it will sign on to the Framework agreement.  However, the province will not compromise on its flat $25-a-tonne carbon price, as outlined in its Made-in-Manitoba climate policy document (October 2017).  Manitoba’s letter announcing its adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework is here .  The federal government’s letter welcoming  Manitoba is here , stating that Manitoba will only be in compliance with the carbon pricing provisions until 2019. Ottawa has stated that it will review each province’s carbon price plan every year starting in 2019, thus postponing until then any further conflict over the federal standard of a $50 per tonne carbon price . Details of the $2Billion Low Carbon Economy Fund, for which Manitoba now qualifies,are here.

According to a CBC report (Feb. 26), Saskatchewan is now the only province not part of the Pan-Canadian Framework, and the federal government is “just waiting” and hoping that they will commit.  New Premier Scott Moe, so far, is holding to the policies outlined in Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy, released in December 2017 under previous Premier Brad Wall – a strong opponent of a carbon tax.

B.C. Auditor General reports on B.C. climate policies; B.C. Budget only begins to answer the concerns

B.C. Budget 2018  was released on February 20, highlighting a “made-in-BC child care plan, a comprehensive housing plan and record levels of capital investment.” An 8-page Highlights summary is here. The Budget was released just two days after the B.C. Auditor General’s report,  Managing Climate Change Risks: An Independent audit, which found it unlikely that British Columbia will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target and is off track to meet its 2050 target. According to the Auditor General, the existing Climate Adaptation Strategy has not been updated since it was written in 2010, leaving the province without clear priorities, timelines or assignment of responsibilities.  In addition, the Auditor General states that B.C. is not prepared for climate risks such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.  A summary of the Auditor General’s report appeared in The Tyee on February 20.

How will the Budget help to meet the shortcomings of the climate change file?  The Pembina Institute states “B.C. budget = good news for families, businesses, and climate” , giving credit for investments in wildfire preparedness, energy-efficient social housing, and carbon-tax rebates for lower income households, yet calling for a clearer “road map” for energy and low carbon targets. (The Highlights document says that the government will invest a further $72 million in community resilience and recovery, and rural development, to help survivors of the 2017 wildfire season). The Tyee also highlighted the need for more vision and ambition in “NDP Told to Step Up Game on the Environment” (Feb. 22).   The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) describes the proposals for new incentives for large industrial emitters in “BC budget unveils support for industry to prevent ‘carbon leakage’”  . The David Suzuki Foundation response commends investments in transit, but criticizes the failure to extend the carbon tax to include methane gas. And DeSmog blog notes the absence of discussion in Budget 2018 of the single largest publicly funded project in the province – the Site C Dam.