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 .