Climate change – long-term change in Earth’s weather patterns – is arguably the most significant crisis humanity has ever faced. Extreme heat, flooding, drought, violent storms, rising sea levels, habitat loss, worsened smog, and many more impacts all combine to create an enormous environmental, social and economic challenge.
Over the past 200 years, humans have been the major cause of climate change. Burning fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas), as well as deforestation, has released huge amounts of “greenhouse gases” (GHGs), like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, trapping energy and increasing global temperatures.
Ontario is expected to see an increase in annual average temperature of 3°C in the south of the province and 4°C in the Far North by 2050.
Some of the projected impacts of climate change in Ontario include:
- Disruptions to critical infrastructure, including water treatment and distribution systems, energy generation and transmission and transportation due to more frequent extreme weather events;
- Lower Great Lakes water levels, which could compromise shipping and reduce hydroelectric output;
- More frequent water shortages, as summer temperatures and evaporation rates increase;
- Greater risks to public health from injury, illness and premature death from climate-related events such as extreme weather, heat waves, smog and the spread of diseases;
- Increased risk for remote and resource-based communities, which are already severely affected by drought, ice-dam flooding, forest fires and warmer winter temperatures; and
- Damage to Ontario’s ecosystems, through the combined influence of changing climate, human activities and natural disturbances like fire, outbreaks of insects and disease.
In Ontario, the primary responsibility for action on climate change is the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).
Since 2009, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) has had a statutory responsibility to report annually on Ontario’s progress towards reducing its GHG emissions. Accordingly, we produce a Greenhouse Gas Annual Progress Report (the “GHG Report”) each year.
- Carbon Pricing: After numerous calls from the ECO, environmental organizations, business representatives and other stakeholders, in 2017 the Ontario government began implementation of a cap and trade system to limit GHGs.
- Electricity subsidies: In our 2016 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that electricity rate subsidies not be considered an acceptable use of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account funds. In 2017, Ontario announced that these funds would not be used to subsidize electricity rates.
- Climate Data: In our 2015 climate data roundtable report, the ECO called on government to ensure more useful climate data was publicly available. In response, Ontario’s 2015 climate change strategy committed to establishing a “climate change modeling collaborative for climate data.”
- Electric vehicle infrastructure: In our 2014 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that Ontario’ Building Code be amended to include provisions that facilitate the future installation of electric vehicle supply equipment. In 2016, the Ontario government proposed that the next edition of the Building Code include electric vehicle provisions and take effect in 2019.
- Road pricing: In our 2010 GHG Report, the ECO urged the Ministry of Transportation consider implementing some form of road pricing. In 2016 the Ontario government implemented a high occupancy road toll pilot project.
- In our 2016 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that the government should publically adopt a complete set of evaluation criteria for proposed GGRA expenditure and an explicit policy on how it allocates GGRA expenditures and an explicit policy on how it allocates GGRA funds between competing objectives
- In our 2015 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that the MOECC provide estimated breakdowns of GHG emissions reduction projections for each initiative, and for each sector.
- In our 2014 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that the province ensure that public infrastructure is assessed for its vulnerability to climate change.
- In our 2012 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that the MOECC implement a phased-in ban on the landfilling of all organic residuals.
In addition to the ECO’s annual reporting on GHG emissions by sector, the ECO has reported on a number of climate-related issues, including: the science of climate change; carbon pricing; metrics and data verification; governance and policy; the risks and costs of climate change; and adaptation and possible GHG mitigation solutions. Below is a selection of the ECO’s reports and articles on climate change. You can also use the search bar at the top of this page to search our website and reports for a particular word or phrase.
- Connecting the Dots on Climate Data in Ontario (2015 Climate Data Roundtable Report)
- Ready for Change? An Assessment of Ontario’s Climate Change Adaption Strategy (2012 Special Report)
- Progress in a Climate of Change: A Review of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan (2007/2008 Special Report)
- Climate Change: Is the Science Sound? (2002 Special Report)