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.
- GHG Reporting by Facility: Since 2012, MOECC has released annual industrial GHG emissions data and made available the annual data for the previous year, fulfilling an ECO recommendation from our 2012 GHG Report.
- Carbon Pricing: After numerous calls from the ECO, environmental organizations, business representatives and other stakeholders, in 2015 the Ontario government announced that it would implement a cap and trade system to limit GHGs.
- 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.”
- Road pricing: In our 2010 GHG Report, the ECO urged the Ministry of Transportation consider implementing some form of road pricing. In 2015 the Ontario government announced a high occupancy road toll pilot would be introduced in 2016.
- 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 Ministry of Energy establish electricity sector greenhouse gas intensity targets that are aligned with the interim and final conservation target dates identified in the Long-Term Energy Plan.
- In our 2012 GHG Report, the ECO recommended that the MOECC develop a strategy to better control greenhouse gas emissions from substitutes for ozone-depleting substances in all applications throughout their life cycles.
- 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)