Ontario’s new climate strategy looks to the future, ignores problems of today

 

Wynne

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, flanked by Cabinet colleagues at Climate Change Action Plan announcement at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto.

Today, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) joined Premier Wynne and members of Cabinet for the unveiling of Ontario’s new Climate Change Action Plan.

Anchored and financed by Ontario’s recently finalized cap-and-trade emissions program, the Plan outlines the key actions the government plans to take to combat climate change. The Action Plan calls for government spending of $5.9 to $8.3 billion over the next five years, focused primarily on transition assistance and incentives for households and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, divert waste, and conserve energy.

Beyond the more newsworthy items such as electric vehicle (EV) sales incentives, charging infrastructure, home energy clean-tech rebates, and a “cash for clunkers” automotive program, the plan features some significant successes and shortfalls that deserve greater attention.

Positive signs of change:

New organizations

The Climate Change Action Plan brings with it the establishment of two wholly new organizations: the Green Bank and the Global Centre for Low Carbon Mobility. Earmarked to receive approximately $1-billion and $120-million respectively, both are government initiatives that aim to encourage and enable business and government transition to a low carbon economy, and to realize best practices and cost reductions in achieving this objective.

The Green Bank is meant to act as an aggregator and central access hub for financing services, service providers, and green technology and retrofits deployment services to connect with household, business, and industry clients.

The Global Centre for Low Carbon Mobility will partner with a to-be-announced post-secondary institution and will be tasked with advising government on matters of green transportation, research and development, and clean-tech and manufacturing.

Knowledge and innovation appear to be core drivers behind the government’s planning, supplementing the creation of these organizations with additional commitment to dedicate funding to the low carbon clean technology sector to create and fuel existing accelerators and clusters.

Transportation

The Plan offers a wide array of transportation funding commitments. Between $355 and $675 million will go to Regional Express Rail Development, expediting the electrification and expansion of rail services with the hopes of reducing the number of single-drivers on Ontario roadways.

Fleet vehicles, such as truck and buses, have been allocated approximately $250million for efficiency upgrades and low emissions fueling stations—using ethanol and liquefied natural gas. More generally, the government has also committed $115-175 million to enhancing the availability and uptake of low carbon fuels.

Community infrastructure

With respect to our communities, the Action Plan directs a number of investments, spanning social housing and apartment building retrofit programs ($680-$900M), energy efficiency upgrades to schools and hospitals ($400-$800M), net-zero new home rebates ($180-$220M), and electricity affordability initiatives ($1-$1.32B).

Shortfalls and suggestions:

Although these are welcomed investments, Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan illustrates that the government views climate change as a forthcoming issue – a problem we can pre-empt and address by curbing emissions. Unfortunately, climate change mitigation isn’t the only problem. Ontario also needs to address existing infrastructural deficiencies in urban areas. With this in mind, Ontario’s Action Plan fails to prioritize or fund critical resiliency efforts that are necessary to combat risks that already threaten public heath, the economy, and the overall success of our communities.

“We’re encouraged by some of the forward-looking features of the government’s official Climate Change Action Plan,” said OSPE Chief Executive Officer Sandro Perruzza. “But we are still disappointed with Ontario’s overall approach on the climate file—including its lack of consideration for immediate issues.”

“We’ve met with government officials, we’ve analyzed the data and provided reports, we’ve repeatedly asked to be included – and now we’re fed up. By not engaging with engineers the government has ignored critical issues around climate change mitigation, such as necessary investments in waste water systems to prevent catastrophic flooding in the GTHA and the ecological degradation of our Great Lakes.”

Municipal waste water treatment

The treatment of Ontario’s waste water is a clear example of this problem. Flowing through our sewer systems, waste water is meant to reach our water treatment facilities to be filtered and purified before being reintroduced to the watermain for residential and commercial use. Unfortunately, these networks of underground waste water pipelines are in a state of widespread disrepair and design obsolescence, whereby heavy rain and storm systems actually overload and flow sewage into flood water—including direct discharge—meaning GTHA sewage is being dumped into Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes. As climate change causes increasingly frequent and severe storms, this silent disaster and the potential risk of catastrophic flooding will only become more grave.

Here, an ongoing lack of public consultation has limited the government’s awareness of the solutions available to address these key consequences of climate challenge. The Climate Change Action Plan only directs new, unfunded responsibilities to municipalities and overlooks critical infrastructure gaps—such as waste water systems—which are areas of concern that are having an immediate and deleterious impact on the environment. It is clear that municipalities are in dire need of funding to replace deteriorating pipes to prevent waste water from turning into flood water.

Overall, although the plan suggests that Ontario’s waste sector should leverage different practices and technologies to capture greenhouse gas pollution that would otherwise be released into the air, there is no direct mention of water systems in the document—a tremendous oversight.

If the Climate Change Action Plan and cap-and-trade program are meant to form the backbone of Ontario’s strategy to cut greenhouse gas pollution to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050, the government must appropriate adequate funding to municipalities and expand its scope to view issues such as water and waste water systems as being a key feature of this plan.

 

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