2015 could turn out to be a watershed year for climate action in Ontario.
So much has happened in the world of climate and energy that it’s helpful to take a deep breath and review the progress Ontario has made over the last 12 months.
To begin, 2015 was the first year that Ontario went completely coal-free. The closure of Ontario’s coal-fired power plants was the single largest carbon reduction initiative in North America and means that we now have cleaner air, no smog days, and improved health outcomes.
Early in 2015, Ontario released a Climate Change Discussion Paper, the first step in the process of cutting carbon pollution and building a clean, low-carbon, 21st century economy. The discussion paper set a long-term goal of economic transformation, outlining how tackling climate change can pave the way to sustainable prosperity. It also sketched out the crucial actions needed to reduce emissions in the short-term, particularly by putting a price on carbon pollution.
In April, Ontario followed through on the discussion paper by announcing it will put a price on carbon by instituting a cap-and-trade program and linking it with Quebec and California (and soon Manitoba too). The program puts a limit, or cap, on the amount of pollution allowed in the province, creates permits for each tonne of pollution emitted, and gives polluters an incentive to lower their emissions to avoid buying more permits. Each year, the cap comes down, decreasing the number of permits and increasing their cost, which generates money that Ontario can use for additional climate solutions.
In the same month, a coalition of businesses, industry associations, labour unions, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, health advocates and environmental groups formed the Clean Economy Alliance, uniting to support Ontario’s commitment to develop a climate change strategy and put a price on carbon pollution. Now with 85 members, the Alliance recognizes that climate action is good for both the environment and the economy, and will bring cleaner air, improved public health, more jobs, and new business opportunities.
With such a broad base of public and stakeholder support, Ontario took its climate leadership a step further in the summer. The province set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, hosted the Climate Summit of the Americas, and signed the “Under 2 MOU”, an agreement between states, provinces and regions to help limit global warming to less than 2°C.
As Ontario committed to climate leadership with its provincial and international partners, the Clean Economy Alliance rolled up its sleeves and helped develop a solutions-based plan for Ontario to tackle climate change. In July, the Alliance hosted the Ontario Climate Change Lab, a day-long workshop that brought together 150 experts to develop a series of actionable recommendations to include in Ontario’s climate change strategy. The diverse range of voices from the Alliance showed Ontario how climate action can build healthier, more liveable communities, create new jobs, industries and opportunities in the clean economy, and empower Ontarians to protect our land, air and water.
The Lab also reinforced the message that climate action requires an all-of-government approach. Carbon pricing is important, but Ontario needs a suite of complementary policies and programs to meet its climate targets. A well-designed cap-and-trade program is an essential piece of the climate change strategy, but it alone can’t transform Ontario’s economy.
Months of hard work left Ontario in a strong position to play a leadership role at the COP21 climate meetings in Paris. Ontario released the draft design details of its cap-and-trade program and a climate change strategy in November, and joined federal and provincial leaders in signing the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to less than 2°C and strive for a 1.5°C target.
It’s been a promising year for climate action in Ontario. But now the real work begins.
It’s time for Ontario to walk the talk. First, the province needs to turn its draft cap-and-trade design options into clear regulations for an effective, stringent, stable program. Second, Ontario must turn its climate change strategy into an action plan with clear policies, programs and funding that puts the province on track to meet its 2020 climate targets. And third, Ontario must rise to the challenge and use the momentum of 2015 to tackle climate change and transform the province into a clean economy that thrives in the 21st century.
These three goals are connected. A well-designed cap-and-trade program is the centrepiece of an effective climate change strategy. Revenue generated from cap-and-trade is crucial to funding the climate action plan that will cut carbon pollution and invest in public transit, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean technology. And these investments are critical to building an inclusive, healthy, clean economy in Ontario.
2015 was a big year for climate leadership in Ontario. Now it’s time for action.
You can take action too: Tell Ontario that revenue from carbon pricing must pay for more climate action.