The ECO has moved! Check out our new home

new web imageIn summer 2015, we updated our website – have a look at our new home at, where you’ll find all of our past reports, information about the Environmental Bill of Rights, links to our social media channels, and more.

That’s also where you’ll find our new blog posts. You can sign up there to get an email whenever a new post goes up. This page will remain here as an archive, so you can still read and link to it, but we won’t be updating it any more.

Questions or comments? Please contact webmaster (at)

Ontario’s GHG reduction targets: why they matter

One of the Environmental Commissioner’s roles under the Environmental Bill of Rights is reporting on the province’s progress towards reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We do this by measuring the province’s progress against its own emissions reduction targets. For our most recent assessment, see our 2015 GHG Progress report.

GHG reduction targetsWhenever you set an ambitious goal for yourself ‒ like running a marathon ‒ you need incremental goals in the shorter term to keep on track. It’s the same idea with the province’s GHG reduction targets leading up to its ambitious 2050 target.

These interim targets encourage the government to take actions now that will help steer a new course for Ontario’s economy, towards one that is low-carbon. Without these short-term targets, the difficult policy decisions needed to make this transition happen might otherwise be put off, which will only make them more costly and difficult later.

Targets also allow the public to hold the government to account, and track its progress on reducing GHG emissions in the province. For example, as we highlight in our 2015 report, as policies currently stand, Ontario is not on track to meet its GHG reduction target for 2020 (15% below 1990 levels). Hopefully Ontario’s climate change strategy, anticipated to be released late 2015, will put the province back onto track.

Getting from 2020 to 2050: Ontario’s new 2030 interim target

The province’s May 2015 introduction of an additional midterm target of 37% below 1990 levels by 2030 sets a new accountability target.

The setting of a new interim target adds to other positive steps recently taken by the government; such as its commitment to introduce a cap-and-trade system and to produce a new climate change strategy.

Climate change is clearly more of a priority for the province than it has been in years past. The ECO looks forward to the announcement of a suite of actions in the coming months which in aggregate will allow the province to meet its GHG reduction targets.


Conserving Ontario’s Wetlands

Wye Marsh in Ontario by WilyD

Ontario’s Wye Marsh

Marshes, swamps, fens, and bogs may not be the ideal place for to build a family home. Nor do they have the perfect conditions for a farmer to grow crops or graze cattle. The ground is wet, often completely covered in water, and the air may be thick with mosquitoes and other insects. As a result, wetlands are sometimes filled-in or drained to make them more ‘useable.’ For these reasons and more, we have lost over 70 per cent of southern Ontario’s wetlands.

The loss of wetlands is concerning because they are important features on our landscape. They filter the water we drink, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide habitat for wildlife, fish and many rare and at-risk species, and protect our homes and businesses from flooding by storing or slowing the flow rate of water during snowmelt and rainstorms.

The ECO has, on numerous occasions, warned that Ontario’s land use policies are failing to sufficiently protect wetlands. The Provincial Policy Statement, 2014 includes policies to prohibit development and site alteration within provincially significant wetlands and coastal wetlands, but some damaging activities such as municipal drains and infrastructure projects (e.g., roads, landfills, and electrical generation and transmission) are exempt. Protection also depends on the wetland’s geographic location, whether or not the wetland has been formally evaluated, and if it has been officially designated in land use plans. As a result, the ECO has previously recommended that:

Unfortunately, the provincial government has made little progress to improve the protection for wetlands – but this may be about to change.

On July 27, 2015, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry posted Wetland Conservation in Ontario: A Discussion Paper on the Environmental Registry (#012-4464). Within the discussion paper, the ministry proposes to develop a strategic plan that will “identify a provincial vision, goals and objectives for wetlands in Ontario and set out a series of actions that the government will undertake over the next 15 years to improve wetland conservation and stop the net loss of wetlands across the province.” Among other things, this discussion paper examines the possibility of adopting a “no net loss” approach to wetlands in Ontario.

For more information on how to participate in the development of this strategic plan for Ontario’s wetlands, visit the Environmental Registry. The ministry is accepting comments on this proposal until October 30, 2015.


Photo credit: By WilyD (Own work) [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Climate Summit of the Americas: the ECO’s Afterthoughts

CSOTA banner

Strategically timed during the days leading up to the Pan Am Games, Ontario hosted a 2-day Climate Summit of the Americas. This conference featured political leaders and climate change action advocates from across the Americas; regions as diverse as the Amazon, B.C. and Vermont. The high-level speakers included former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, Governor of California Jerry Brown and the Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard.

Premier Wynne hosted and attended the Summit. She also attended an Al Gore-led climate change educator training session held in Toronto the day after the Summit.

The Summit was not just about Ontario learning from other states, provinces and regions to inform the government’s highly anticipated new climate change strategy and cap-and-trade program (both expected to be released later this year); but it was also intended to spur further climate action by other subnational governments across the continent. It seems it was successful on both accounts.

In terms of spurring further actions, the Summit resulted in a Climate Action Statement signed by 23 state and region signatories, including leaders from Mexico, Brazil, the U.S. and Canada. The Statement promotes a flexible approach to climate change action that allows for locally determined actions by participating in or undertaking one or more of the following: GHG emissions reductions targets, the Under 2 MOU, the Compact of States and Regions or the Compact of Mayors, and supporting carbon pricing.

Summit speakers stressed that transitioning to a low carbon economy offers great opportunity, both social and economic. They also warned about the impacts that climate change are having right now on their communities.

Recent actions by the Ontario Government, as we reported in our 2015 GHG Progress report, including hosting the Summit, suggest Ontario intends to embrace action on climate change.


The Environmental Bill of Rights in the news!

One Ontario environmental group is speaking out about a recent positive experience using one of the tools provided in the Environmental Bill of Rights. In 2014, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submitted an application for review to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change asking that Toronto’s wastewater treatment plants be required to notify the public about declining water quality during storm events.  Last week, they got their response from the Ministry. They’re so pleased, they went on the CBC to talk about it.

Did you know that any two Ontarians can submit an application for review asking the government for a new cialis brisbane environmental policy, Act or regulation, or for changes to existing ones? You can read about past application for review successes here. Do you have a great idea about how an environmental law can be improved? Learn how to prepare your own application for review here.

What are Ontario’s trends on reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Last week the ECO released Feeling the Heat: 2015 Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report. Find out what Acting Commissioner Ellen Schwartzel had to say about it …

Connecting the dots on climate data in Ontario

Ontario’s communities are built based on historic weather patterns. Homes are built in areas that are believed to be safe from flooding and other natural hazards. Roads are built to withstand typical seasonal weather. Farmers plant and harvest crops based on usual growing seasons.

But past assumptions about the weather no longer hold up.

We now live in a changing climate. Climate change doesn’t just mean that temperatures are rising; it also means more unpredictable and extreme weather.

Countless business, personal and government decisions rely on assumptions about what the future climate will be. Many of these decisions are long-term; the roads, buildings, transit, sewers and power grids being built today are meant to last. But now “1-in-100 year” storms, which are often the threshold for resilient design, are happening more frequently than in the past. If major decisions aren’t based on revised climate assumptions, communities will face significant costs in the future. Many communities are already coping with costs of unprecedented storm damage.

Decisions that reflect the past climate are no longer good enough.

Where can decision makers find credible projections of the future climate?  And what are the emerging climate data needs of Ontario decision makers? A Roundtable hosted by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario in early 2015, focused on these and related questions. Expert presentations and animated discussions among climate data producers, intermediaries and end users illuminated the many facets of this rapidly developing field.

Our Climate Data Roundtable Report summarizes the presentations and discussions from the event, and explores some recommendations that the ECO suggests for moving forward on this issue in Ontario.  We encourage you to download, use and share the video and infographics from the report to help your networks better understand why access to good climate data matters.

Feeling the Heat: 2015 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report

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.2015GHG Figure 1 GHG emission trends and targets

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 in Ontario by sector

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 GDP and GHG Emissions

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.

A Big Win for the Environmental Bill of Rights

In early April 2015, a cement manufacturing facility north of Picton pled guilty to four charges relating to excessive discharges of dust, particulates and noise. As a result, the company was fined $350,000, plus a victim surcharge of $87,500.  For neighbours of the facility, this marks an important victory in their efforts to see this company held to account for the pollution that has plagued the community for more than a decade.

Since 2003, neighbours of the facility have complained to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change about adverse effects related to dust emissions and, more recently, noise. In 2011, some community members decided they had had enough and filed an application for investigation under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 asking the ministry to investigate whether these emissions violated the Environmental Protection Act. Although the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change undertook an investigation and confirmed that dust emissions from the facility were causing problems, it didn’t lay any charges at that time. The applicants continued to pursue the issue and, almost a full decade after complaints began, the company was charged in 2012.

In a recent news story about this company’s guilty plea and fine, one of the applicants credits the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) with helping ensure the ministry finally took their complaints seriously. The story states that it was only after the ECO reported on the issue to the Ontario legislature that the local community saw a real effort by the government to address their complaints; shortly thereafter, a new ministry officer was assigned to the file and charges were ultimately laid. This is a great example of the power of the Environmental Bill of Rights and the importance of the ECO’s public reporting function to ensure accountability in government decision-making, including when enforcing environmental laws.


Do you think that someone is breaking an environmental law in your community? Click here to learn more about applications for investigation.