With the release of the Ontario government’s full climate action plan, we should dispel any lingering fear or uneasiness and replace it with a sense of accomplishment. Ontario is proposing is a sensible strategy to reduce emissions, one that allows the province to meet its legislated emissions reduction goals — only Ontario’s neighbour to the east, Quebec, has anything similar to Ontario’s plan.

Ontario’s climate advantage began in 2014, with the shuttering of the last coal plant in the province. Considered the biggest environmental action to date in North America, this enabled the province to slash its emissions by approximately 34 megatonnes. This action, together with policies and programs that incentivize renewable energy projects, have made Ontario the most substantial investor in clean energy in the country — more than $12.8 billion between 2010 and 2014. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, to hear Alberta making similar commitments — to eliminate coal and increase renewable power generation — as part of its climate leadership plans.

Ontario’s plan contains the sorts of things that excite climate experts: the use of public money to leverage private investments in clean energy (while protecting the taxpayer from risk) through the establishment of a “green bank”; low-carbon fuel standards; electric vehicle incentives and charging stations; and money for energy efficiency and retrofits for homes and businesses. What this plan doesn’t propose is that we kick the fossil fuel habit any time soon:  perhaps surprisingly, data from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project supports that call.

Created as a roadmap for countries to reform their economies by 2050 to dramatically reduce the negative effects of climate change, the Pathways Project still predicts that natural gas (with carbon capture and storage), coal and oil  will continue to be present in Canada’s energy mix — for electricity generation, some heat and industrial processes, and heavy duty transport.   At least in the short term, Ontario has, accepted this reality and hasn’t proposed a radical shift away from fossil fuels, choosing instead to boost lower-carbon options. It is embarking on an energy transition, not a revolution.

And why shouldn’t it? Ontario has the largest and fastest-growing clean-tech sector in Canada — in its Climate Change Strategy, the Ontario government touts that 36 percent of the nation’s clean-tech companies with proprietary technologies are in Ontario.

Yes, climate action is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but this isn’t just about inflicting pain with regulatory sticks. Ontario has shown it can also be achieved through the strategic use of carrots, with programs that build on its record investments in clean energy and clean technologies, and leverages that expertise to create cost-savings for homeowners and businesses alike.

This is the kind of carbon cents and sensibility we should be aiming for, and Ontario’s climate action plan hits the mark.

Photo: Shutterstock / Matej Kastelic


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Merran Smith
Merran Smith is a fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue and the executive director of Clean Energy Canada, where she advocates for effective climate policy and works to advance Canada’s shift to clean and renewable energy systems.
Sarah Petrevan
Sarah Petrevan is the vice-president of sustainability at the Cement Association of Canada.  

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