Doug Ford’s government has made ‘next to no progress’ on plan to cut carbon emissions: report

Premier Doug Ford’s government has done almost nothing on the bulk of the promises in the greenhouse-gas reduction plan Ontario introduced last November, according to a new report by an environmental watchdog group.

The report published Thursday by Environmental Defence examines the seven key actions Ontario pledged to cut carbon emissions in the province, and finds that little or no progress has been made on all but one.

The actions were laid out in the “Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations,” the plan unveiled after the Progressive Conservatives scrapped the Wynne Liberal government’s cap-and-trade program.

“The government has acknowledged that the climate crisis is real, human-caused, and must be addressed,” said Environmental Defence in its report. “Ontario’s failure to act is a broken promise.”

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.

CBC News requested information about the government’s actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yurek’s press secretary, Andrew Buttigieg, said in a statement the government “has already made significant progress toward further consultation and implementation” on 19 commitments in its environmental plan.

However, few of those commitments have anything to do with reducing emissions. They include “appointed a special adviser for Ontario Parks” and “released a discussion paper on reducing plastic litter and waste.”

The Environmental Defence report says the government is already “not on track” to achieve its own emission reduction targets, in part because of decisions that have slowed the pace of electric vehicle sales and delayed a push for more renewable content in fuel.

“So far, we haven’t seen any meaningful steps to reduce carbon pollution and fight climate change in Ontario,” said Sarah Buchanan, clean economy program manager for Environmental Defence.

“We’re quite concerned that Ontario isn’t taking its obligations seriously and is breaking its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without a price on carbon,” Buchanan said in an interview.

The signature piece of the government’s plan — an emission performance standard for large industrial polluters — will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than decrease them, according to the report.

It says the system is too lenient and offers too many exemptions to big polluters, and there’s no evidence to support the government’s forecast that the standard will contribute 15 per cent of the province’s overall target for cutting greenhouse gases.

The report says the government has taken no action on two programs that together account for one-third of its emission-reduction target:

  • Expanding conservation programs to reduce natural gas consumption.
  • Supporting innovation, such as energy storage and low-carbon heating fuels.

It says the government has taken minimal action on programs that account for another 40 per cent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) target, such as:

  • Increased use of green vehicles.
  • Cleaner fuels.
  • Establishing an emission-reduction fund for businesses.

Electric vehicle sales in Ontario during the first quarter of 2019 were down 55 per cent from the same time period the previous year, after the government scrapped all rebates for purchasing electric cars.

The government’s plan relies on greater adoption of low-carbon vehicles for one-sixth of the province’s overall target for cutting GHGs. Without incentives that help cover the higher cost of electric vehicles, the report says, it’s “extremely unlikely” enough such cars will be on Ontario’s roads to significantly reduce emissions.

The government is proposing to boost the minimum ethanol content of fuel at the gas pumps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the timeline is slow, with no changes proposed until 2025, and a gradual phase-in after that.

The report gives credit for “some action, with room for improvement” in a category that covers “transit, waste and other commitments.” It notes the government’s efforts to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills — by, for example, expanding municipal green-bin programs — and on some public transportation measures, such as reopening a Global Green Bond for investors wanting to put their money toward projects like energy efficient buildings.

This category accounts for six per cent of the planned reductions in carbon emissions.

Because Ontario’s emissions-reduction plan does not involve a price on carbon, the federal Liberal government imposed a carbon tax on such items as gasoline and home heating fuel in the province, and paid rebates through the tax system to Ontario taxpayers.

Ontario is fighting the imposition of the carbon tax through the court system, and wants the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a lower court ruling that favoured Ottawa.

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