Feeling the Heat: Greenhouse Gas Progress Report 2015
This report was submitted to the Legislative Assembly by Ellen Schwartzel, Acting Environmental Commissioner of Ontario on July 7, 2015.
July 7th, 2015 – Today we released our 2015 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report.
It looks like Ontario is finally “feeling the heat” on climate change policy. Until recently, the government’s decision to close its coal-fired power plants was Ontario’s main contribution to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Encouragingly, though, the Ontario government is now preparing to take the first of many necessary steps towards meeting its 2050 GHG reduction target (80% below 1990 emissions levels).
As we do every year, our 2015 report reviews the government’s progress throughout the previous year in reducing GHG emissions across its major economic sectors. We use the government’s own GHG reduction targets as a benchmark to track the province’s progress.
The Ontario government appears to have met its 2014 GHG reduction target (6% below 1990 levels) ‒ in large part due to the closure of its coal-fired power plants. However, no other significant GHG reduction policies have since been implemented. The policies in place so far will not reduce emissions enough to ensure Ontario achieves its 2020 GHG reduction target of 15% below 1990 levels.
To make real progress towards the province’s 2020 and 2050 targets, and the government’s recently announced interim 2030 target (37% below 1990 levels), Ontario needs to implement a suite of actions across its economy.
Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions by sector (click to enlarge)
Ontario continues to struggle to make much progress on reducing emissions from the province’s top three emitting sectors: transportation, buildings and industry (see left). The transportation sector is the largest challenge of the three. There are many potential tools available to reduce emissions in this sector, for example: incentives for lower emissions vehicles (see p.21 of our report); alternative fuels; getting people out of cars altogether and onto bikes and transit; creating a low-carbon fuel standard (p.22); and transit-friendly land use planning (p.20). There is both scope and a need for greater action on each of these measures.
Figure 4 – Ontario’s GDP and GHG emissions (click to enlarge)
There is good news. We now know that it is possible for our economy to grow while emissions shrink, as shown in Figure 4 of Ontario’s Climate Change Update 2014. What’s more, we know the costs of not reducing our GHG emissions are significant and growing.
There are some encouraging signs of a renewed provincial commitment to climate change action; Ontario’s recently renamed Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (emphasis added) just announced that it plans to introduce a cap-and-trade system and release a new climate change strategy later this year. As well, in the coming days, leaders from across the continent will be meeting in Toronto for the Climate Summit of the Americas. This Summit will focus on the potential for major continent-wide climate change action at the sub-national level, including state, provincial and municipal governments. The heat is on for each jurisdiction to deliver on their GHG reduction commitments. Ontario has set itself strong targets. Now comes the hard part: delivering the results.