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Ontario underwhelms with new environment plan

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/30/2018 2:11:00 PM

The much-anticipated environment plan released by the Ontario government on November 29, 2018 includes chapters on air, lakes and rivers, waste and litter, land and greenspace, and climate. But much of the attention has been focussed on the climate chapter, as it should be. The new government has waged a public battle against carbon pricing and has promised a plan that will do a much better job for Ontario than Ottawa’s carbon pricing backstop.

As to whether the new plan, “Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations: A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan”, will actually do a better job, history will be the judge. Objectively, the new plan is far less ambitious than the one it replaces and may fall short of what Ontario needs to do as its part of Canada’s commitment under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

“There are way more questions than answers here,” Dale Beugin, executive director of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, told EcoLog News.

Ontario says its new plan will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 emission levels by 2030. That’s what Canada committed to do nationally under the Paris Agreement, but Beugin says that’s not what the Pan-Canadian Framework requires. It requires a price on carbon or an equivalent through a cap-and-trade program, he says, and this new plan includes neither.

More concerning, according to Beugin, is the lack of detail. The new plan outlines a series of measures — output-based allocations for large emitters, a carbon trust, reverse auctions, natural gas conservation, innovation — with no explanation of how much they will cost, where the money will come from and how the measures will work with each other toward achieving the 2030 goal.

One initiative that does have a price tag attached is the carbon trust — $400 million over four years intended to unlock private sector investment in emission-reducing initiatives.

Where that money will come from is unclear, says Beugin. More importantly, he says, Australia tried something similar. There, the government ended up supporting projects that might have gone ahead anyway and that delivered far fewer emission reductions than promised.

The new plan also contemplates emissions intensity standards for large emitters. Ironically, says Beugin, that part of the plan sounds remarkably like the large emitters component of the federal backstop that the Ontario government has been trashing. If it is like the federal backstop, it’s probably a good thing, says Beugin, “but there are some red flags about sweeping exemptions,” which could have serious implications for the environment and the economy.

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