2008/2009 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report

Finding a Vision for Change

Pursuant to recent changes made to theEnvironmental Bill of Rights, 1993, the ECO is responsible for reviewing the progress of activities in Ontario to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and independently reporting its findings to the legislature. On December 8, 2009, the ECO released its report entitled Finding a Vision for Change: Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2008/2009.

Ontario Not On Track to Meet Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets

Toronto – The Ontario government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions does not have the tools necessary to meet its GHG emission targets. The government is projecting that it will fall short of its targets, even though the future reductions projected by the government are based on an assumption that all initiatives will be implemented 100 per cent successfully.

“Having targets is important, but having the tools and techniques to meet those targets is critical,” said Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, in his report, released today, entitled Finding a Vision for Change: Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2008/2009.

“If I were to give the government of Ontario a grade on its report,” Miller added, “it would be an ‘incomplete’.”

Climate change due to human emissions of GHGs is a recognized global crisis. World leaders are currently gathered in Copenhagen to hammer out an international agreement on reducing GHG emissions. Ontario has set targets and clearly is making some progress. However, there is more work to be done, and without a clear vision for change, Ontario will fail to live up to international expectations.

The only opportunity to eliminate the shortfall in meeting the target at 2020 requires placing considerable faith in the successful and timely implementation of a cap-and-trade system. As well, most of the projected reductions in the short term are expected to come from a single initiative – the phase-out of coal from Ontario’s power supply. While this will result in substantial reductions in the electricity sector, the government’s plan, at present, does not project significant reductions in other sectors such as industry and transportation, nor other fuels such as natural gas.

“The government’s focus on electricity conservation displays an apparent blind spot for conserving natural gas, the next fossil fuel to focus on once coal is eliminated,” stated Miller.

In 2007, the Ontario government established targets to reduce GHG emissions. On December 2, 2009, the government reported on steps it has taken to achieve these targets, outlining a range of measures it is taking to reduce GHG emissions, including 14 key initiatives.

Key Findings

The government is not on track to meet its short- and medium-term climate change targets. In 2007, the Ontario government established three targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The reduction targets are:

  • 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2014;
  • 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020; and
  • 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

On December 2, 2009 the government reported on steps it has taken to achieve these targets. The government outlined a range of measures it is taking to reduce GHG emissions, including 14 key initiatives. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) is responsible for reviewing the government’s progress in achieving its targets and independently reporting its findings to the legislature.

Forecasted targets won’t be met

The government is not on track to meet either its 2014 or 2020 GHG emission reduction targets. The government will miss its targets by 15 Mt and 35 Mt in 2014 and 2020, respectively.

By The Numbers

 

Year Target Forecasted GHGs Shortfall Forecasted GHG Reductions
2014 165 Mt1 180 Mt 15 Mt 34.4 Mt
2020 149 Mt2 184 Mt 35 Mt 43.8 Mt
1 6 per cent below 1990 baseline of 175 Mt (Million or Mega tonnes)
2 15 per cent below 1990 baseline
Note: 2007 GHGs were 197 Mt

 

Not enough tools in the government’s GHG mitigation tool kit

The government’s main focus is to reduce emissions from the electricity sector. It plans to do so by phasing-out coal in the power mix and by encouraging conservation measures. Apart from these measures, there are few initiatives put forward to reduce emissions from other key sectors such as industry and transportation, or from other key fuels such as natural gas.

Overreliance on one initiative in the short-term

Most of the forecasted 34.4 Mt reductions by 2014 are expected to come from one initiative: the phase-out of coal at the four remaining coal plants. The government has no contingency plans in place if unforeseen circumstances (such as a spike in peak demand) force Ontario to delay closing (or re-start) coal units to meet its North American power grid reliability obligations.

Uncertainty around cap-and-trade may pose problems in meeting 2020 target

The government is placing considerable faith in the implementation of a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions between 2014 and 2020. The ECO believes this may be risky due to a lack of compatibility between the current Canadian federal proposals and the Ontario framework, as well as other North American regulatory proposals. Any delay in the implementation of a cap-and-trade regime will likely further hinder the government’s ability to meet its 2020 target.

Targets not “aggressive” in light of scientific data

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now believes that emission reduction targets in the range of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 are required to keep average global warming from increasing to unacceptable levels. In light of this, the ECO questions the government’s use of the term “aggressive” to describe Ontario’s current medium-term target of 15 per cent below 1990 levels.

Transparency in the plan numbers – but not in the process of plan implementation

The future reductions projected by the government are based on an assumption that all initiatives will be implemented 100 per cent successfully. No rationale for this assumption is provided and the ECO questions whether this may, in fact, lead to an overly optimistic conclusion. Of further concern, there is insufficient information to convey to the public the roles and responsibilities of key government ministries (Finance, Transportation, Energy and Infrastructure, etc.) in achieving the desired results. Most troubling, there is no information on who is accountable for achieving the numbers, how funds and related resources are released and who makes these key decisions.

The bottom line: The government seems to have lost its vision of what a carbon reduction plan should be pursuing. A plan that conservatively focuses on current best practice is no substitute for a plan with a vision for the future – a vision for change.

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