Rating: High school and post-secondary
Summary: Markham interviews Sarah Buchanan, Program Manager, Clean Economy for Environmental Defence, about her organization’s December, 2020 study, Yours to Recover: A Progress Report on Ontario’s Climate Change Actions. The report argues that, “After two years, the Ontario government has largely ignored its own Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan and failed to take meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
This interview has been lightly edited.
Markham Hislop: Environmental Defence Canada has come up with a new report about Ontario climate policies the lack of progress [reducing greenhouse gas emissions]. And it seems to me, because I cover a lot of Alberta energy and climate policy and federal energy and climate policy, that this is a characteristic of conservative governments across Canada. It’s a worrying trend. I’ll be talking to Sarah Buchanan from the Environmental Defence.
But the fact remains that the federal government has a big policy hammer and provinces like Ontario and Alberta are going to have to get into line whether they like it or not. Sarah, let’s start with your report, please.
Sarah Buchanan: So what we did is we sat down and, and looked at Ontario’s claim that they are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. They’ve been promising for a long time that they’re going to do that without a price on carbon.
So we looked at their environment plan piece by piece and promise by a promise. And then we also looked at Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions and those emissions are going up. They started rising after almost 10 years of going down. They started rising the year, premier Ford took power. We looked at the policies and also concluded that they’re not strong enough to hit the target that they’ve set out for 2030.
But at the same time, the proof is in the pudding. Not only are the policies weak, but they’re not working. The data’s from 2018 and we’ll be looking at data from 2019, whenever that comes in, probably in the spring. At the end of the day, if you’re not actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the programs that you’re putting forward, then what are you doing? That’s the whole end goal of these particular policies.
Markham Hislop: I want to bring up an angle here because this is especially true for Alberta, which has very high carbon-intense, oil, but it’s also true for other parts of the economy. We often talk about reducing greenhouse gas emissions as fighting climate change, which we should, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s another angle to this: is that you can’t run a carbon-intense. high emissions economy and expect to be competitive in the coming low-carbon future. Clearly, there are going to be carbon markets emerging – there’s already a big one in Europe, there’s a big one emerging in China and – and there’ll be others in other places.
And if Ontario and other provinces don’t work harder to get their emissions down, then their businesses and so on are going to an economic penalty. Have I got that right?
Sarah Buchanan: Absolutely. And Ontario really risks getting left behind in the transition that’s happening now around the world to a global economy that’s not based as heavily on fossil fuels. And Ontario is still relying on outdated policies. And in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, relying on outdated stimulus ideas to build more highways and essentially pollute their way out of this economic crisis.
So another thing we’ve done is taken a look at what have they promised to do on climate change? Are they doing it? And is there anything in there that could actually help stimulate the economy?
As it turns out there is there’s quite a lot. Helping people to, for example, use less natural gas to heat their homes – that stimulates the economy. Think of all the people needed to install energy-efficient windows, upgrade insulation, things like that. It’s something they’ve promised to do and haven’t done.
So we’ve simply said, “why don’t you go ahead and implement these programs that could have a pretty positive impact on the economy in Ontario at a really important time?” So we want to see that pivot towards where most other jurisdictions are going. We’ve seen a lot of plans for green recoveries, it’s just that Ontario’s is nowhere to be seen.
Markham Hislop: There’s another context that’s really important here. And that’s Joe Biden’s clean energy plan and his climate policies. If you look at his clean plan, he calls for making America the number one country in the clean energy revolution and Ontario is ideally positioned. It’s right across the river from Detroit, it’s ideally positioned to take advantage of that. And it seems like it’s not being well-positioned because of the provincial government’s foot-dragging.
Sarah Buchanan: Right. We could be providing a lot of renewable energy for those northern states potentially. And instead, the Ford government is cutting back on the renewable energy projects that were supposed to be built. So it’s frustrating to see other jurisdictions getting their heads around this, moving forward, repositioning their economies, and to see Ontario moving in the absolute opposite direction and going to a place that is going to leave us with a lot of stranded assets.
If we have natural gas pipelines going into the ground now, that are supposed to be paying themselves off over a 50-year timeline, if we’re still burning natural gas to heat our homes in 50 years, we’ve got bigger problems than the economy, quite frankly. So Ontario needs to start thinking a lot farther ahead than they are currently.
Markham Hislop: Final question, and this comes back to the federal government. Canada has been criticized forever for talking big and doing little. And I think with the Trudeau government that changed. It changed in 2015. It changed again in 2019. And since then we’ve seen some additional initiatives come forward. And at the end of the day, the federal government is responsible for national emissions and they will make governments like Ford’s and Scott Moe’s in Saskatchewan and Jason Kenney’s in Alberta – they’ll just impose regulations, impose policies.
If those governments don’t play ball on it, how long until how much longer is Ontario got under Doug Ford before Justin Trudeau comes in and says, “okay, you’re going to have this policy, that policy we’re going to do it for you if you won’t do it yourself.”
Sarah Buchanan: Well, he’s already done that with carbon pricing, but it was not easy. It’s a tough slog. It takes a lot of government resources to be fighting these legal battles against each other. And all of that money and time would be so much better spent actually fighting climate change rather than fighting each other. So I really hope that the federal government doesn’t have to bulldoze in and regulate everybody into playing ball here to acknowledge that the climate crisis is serious.
What I would hope is that provincial governments would wise up and say, “all right, if we actually take real action to meet these targets, the federal government will get off our backs here”. They just want to see that real serious action being taken. Hopefully, we’ll move towards that. If not, unfortunately, the federal government may have to bring in the bigger guns here.
Markham Hislop: Well, a final thought, I’ll leave you with this, viewers. And that is that we are in an energy transition. We’re moving from fossil fuels to electricity generated by low carbon sources, like wind and solar supported by batteries.
That is the same kind of structural change that happened a hundred years ago during the 1920s when we moved from horses and steam to cheap petroleum and internal combustion engines. It’s the same kind of huge structural transformation. When we keep talking about climate change – which we absolutely should – we should never forget the structural changes coming in the global economy. And we either get with it or we’ll still be working with horses out in our fields and using them to deliver our milk.
Metaphorically, of course, but that’s where we’re going if we don’t get this together.