The State of Ontario’s climate policy in 2019 is “Chilling”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement at Queen's Park in Toronto, on Friday, July 27, 2018. Ford says he will significantly reduce the number of Toronto city councillors just months before the fall municipal election.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Ontario’s environmental commissioner issued dire warnings Wednesday about the “frightening” state of climate policy in the province as she delivered her office’s last report.

The Progressive Conservative government announced last fall that it was eliminating the office of the environmental commissioner and merging its functions with the auditor general. In delivering a report on energy conservation, Dianne Saxe said Ontario is heading in the wrong direction on the environment.

“At a time when climate damage is accelerating, Ontario is turning away from the things that we know work,” she said, describing the government’s climate policy as “very inadequate, very frightening.”

“On the big things that will reduce our climate pollution, allow Canada to fulfil its role under the Paris agreement and show the poorer countries of the world that are suffering the greater damage that we are going to do our part, we are causing great damage.”

Saxe is critical of the government’s cancellation of a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases, as well as the cancellation of electricity conservation programs and a growth plan that she says increases urban sprawl and therefore reliance on transportation fuels.

“I think that what we’re doing in Ontario and what we may do in Canada this year puts the entire Paris Agreement at risk,” she said, referring to the federal Conservatives’ opposition to the upcoming carbon tax.

“If the world can’t hold together on the Paris Agreement we are toasted, roasted and grilled.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement sets a target of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2 C, or 1.5 C if possible.

Saxe was critical of the government’s recent cancellation of a slew of electricity conservation programs, including rebates for energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment, discounts for buying energy-efficient products such as LED light bulbs, incentives for builders to improve energy performance in new residences, and refrigeration equipment upgrade incentives.

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KATHMANDU, Nov. 9, 2016 (Xinhua) — Photo taken on Nov. 8, 2016 shows a early morning view of Chomolungma as seen from a plane during the mountain flight in Kathmandu, Nepal. Due to the effects of climate change and global warming, the mountains of the Himalayan range have less snow, resulting in the world’s greatest freshwater resources are declining. (Xinhua/Sunil Sharma/IANS)

Since 2007, Ontario has made valuable progress in conserving electricity and some progress in conserving natural gas, and without those programs the province would be emitting about six megatonnes more each year in carbon dioxide equivalents, she said.

The government’s environment plan doesn’t even mention electricity conservation, Saxe said, and abandoning it would increase greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by about two megatonnes.

Environment Minister Rod Phillips said his climate plan will produce a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the target set by the federal government, without a carbon tax _ which the province continues to rail against.

Phillips said the plan focuses conservation efforts on natural gas instead of electricity.

“We’re adding conservation programs around areas that actually produce greenhouse gases, like natural gas production,” he said. “The conservation programs related to electricity largely are affecting programs that come from our electricity grid, which because of nuclear power, because of renewables, because of hydro, doesn’t produce a great deal of greenhouse gas.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said reports and comments like the ones Wednesday from the environmental commissioner are why the government got rid of Saxe’s office.

“They don’t want to hear what it takes and what’s necessary to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets,” she said. “Instead, they just want to continue along their merry way and not take seriously our responsibilities when it comes to climate change.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner called it a “tragic loss” to no longer have a standalone officer to report on facts and evidence that members of the legislature need to make sound policy decisions.

Premier Doug Ford had promised that not a single job would be lost under his government, but Saxe said this move has meant 12 people are losing their jobs.