Getting to know Ontario’s electricity system – Part 2: Provincial and national climate policy

In the first installment of this series, we learned about the sources of energy we rely on, how that energy is converted into electricity, and how our energy production is linked to climate change. In this edition, we will learn about how Ontario is taking action on climate change, and the work that has yet to be done at the federal level.

Climate policy in Ontario

In Canada, energy production is the jurisdiction of the province, which means that provinces have a role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change caused by our energy resources.

Ontario has taken several important steps to fulfill its provincial responsibilities:

2007

In 2007, Ontario committed to phasing out its coal-fired power plants, and in April 2014 we were officially coal-free. This was the biggest single climate action taken in Canada to date and has already had huge positive impacts on air quality, respiratory health and climate health.

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Smog days since phase out; Source: David Suzuki Foundation on Facebook

2009

Another major step was the introduction of the Green Energy & Economy Act, 2009, (GEEA) which enabled the development of renewable energy generation in a way unseen in any other province. In addition to creating new industries, the GEEA also allows individuals and groups to get directly involved in renewable energy generation through the Feed-in-Tariff program, which we will learn more about in a later edition of this series.

2015

Climate policy has been in the news recently because Ontario just took a big step towards climate action. Last month (April, 2015), Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that Ontario would be pursuing a cap-and-trade system to further pursue climate change mitigation goals. This limits the amount of carbon that polluters can emit, while at the same time encouraging conservation and clean energy. The details of this plan are yet to be seen, but it is a promising step and an indication that the provincial government is taking its responsibility seriously.

The Ontario government released this video explaining the cap-and-trade system

Federal inaction on climate change

To date, there has been a notable lack of support from the Federal government on climate initiatives, putting the onus on the provinces and creating a patchwork of policy across the country.

Despite its pledge as part of the Copenhagen Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationally to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, Canada is making very little progress. As the energy sector contributes 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, we must focus on emissions reductions from oil and gas development as well as introducing clean energy policy to combat climate change.

Without clear leadership from the highest level of government, the provinces will continue along a piecemeal path. In some cases, provincial leaders have stepped up, as in the case of British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario. At the same time, a lack of federal policy allows provinces to maintain the status quo, and in fact further put our climate at risk.

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Canadians march for climate action in Quebec City, April 2015; Source: “Act On Climate March” by actionclimat is licensed by CC BY 2.0

How you can get involved

As individuals, we can call upon our elected officials to ensure they are doing all they can to develop energy policy is in line with the crucial goal of combating climate change. 2015 is an important year for climate action at the national level, so be sure to engage with your federal representatives on the following issues:

  1. Heading into the Federal Election in the fall, be sure to ask all the candidates what their party’s plan is for a national price on carbon and their commitment to renewable energy development. Make it known that you support a party that believes in their duty to be a leader on climate policy.
  2. Leading up to the 2015 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, in Paris, France, encourage the Federal Government to be actively involved in the conference’s goal of “achiev[ing] a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”

While government policy is essential in combating climate change, individuals can take action too – one way is through the Earth Day Canada Earth Day Every Day campaign. This effort focuses on our personal transportation choices, and challenges individuals to “green their commute” – sign up to track your daily Green Acts along with a growing community making the choice to combat climate change. Together we can demonstrate our collective impact.

We hope this article has helped you understand the actions Ontario has taken to fight climate change, how much more action is needed individually, collectively and, politically, and what you can do to speak out.

 

IESO, OEB, LDCs, oh my! Next time, we explain the many acronyms of Ontario’s energy system, get to know the actors, and work to understand how electricity gets to you.

Header image source:Coal-Free Ontario” by environmentaldefence is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0

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