The Government of Ontario’s recently released Climate Change Discussion Paper does not read like your average piece of bureaucratic bafflegab. In fact, it is surprisingly direct and forceful in outlining the threat posed by climate change and the need for an unprecedented economy-wide effort to address it.
A bold take on climate change
As Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, states in his introduction “Climate change is a problem with a solution.”
This theme runs through the document, which points out that Ontario actually has little to lose and a lot to gain from taking dramatic action to address climate change. As the minister states, “Ontario is well positioned to seize the opportunities of a low-carbon economy if we are prepared to take bold action.”
That’s a refreshing take at a time when many political leaders (and especially our federal government) continue to scaremonger about the economic impacts of dealing with the biggest threat facing our planet. Any official document that calls for “bold action” after decades of stalling on addressing an increasingly unstable climate has to be welcomed.
The additional good news is that the Ontario document goes beyond broad rhetoric to really identify what it is going to take to turn back the worst impacts of climate change. It outlines a set of “guiding principles,” including “Action oriented,” “Leadership” and “Economically integrated” for the province’s climate change mitigation efforts. It is also blunt about the risks of sticking with the status quo of a “low productivity, high carbon” economy, which it points to as a pathway to economic stagnation. And it is equally blunt about the impacts of inaction, warning “Climate change is a global phenomenon but impacts are felt mostly at the local level.”
Beyond rhetoric: carbon pricing
Which brings us to carbon pricing. While the Ontario Government has toyed with the idea of introducing some form of price on carbon pollution for a number of years, the paper makes it clear that such a price is now imminent – and vital to our future economic success.
By creating an incentive for improvements in energy efficiency and innovation in low-carbon technologies (like renewable energy), a carbon price can help our economy prosper. It will also help to level the playing field between old approaches that have used our atmosphere as a free dumping ground for pollution and new approaches, such as renewable energy, that don’t disrupt our climate.
The one place where the paper could be stronger is in recognizing the important role renewable energy can play in helping us meet our climate targets. It notes that phasing out coal has taken a huge chunk out of electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions, but doesn’t properly recognize that those emissions will start rising again if we continue to increase our reliance on natural gas generation.
And for such a visionary document, it is only between the lines that there is recognition of the huge future potential of renewable energy to help us heat and cool our homes and buildings and power our vehicles and transit – two of the biggest sources of climate destabilizing emissions today.
The paper does recognize that it is “crucial to invest in innovation and support development of new technologies.” This is exactly what we have been doing through the province’s Feed-in Tariff program for green energy, of course.
The economic case for renewables
The economic case for renewable energy as a climate solution is only getting stronger as costs continue to plummet and investment in wind, solar and other renewable technologies continues to surge worldwide. Ontario is already reaping many benefits from its early leadership in this area, from jobs to community investment, and the paper recognizes the economic upside of investing in new industries such as green energy:
“The clean tech, low carbon economy is a significant opportunity for Ontario’s industrial and manufacturing sector. The technologies and products in the new energy economy will require advanced manufacturing technologies and skilled workers, which already form the backbone of Ontario’s manufacturing sector. We will need more investment in these strengths to compete in the global marketplace.”
We couldn’t agree more, which is why we are giving the government’s direction two thumbs up. You should too. You can submit your comments stating your support for carbon pricing and the development of a low carbon economy at https://www.ontario.ca/environment-and-energy/climate-change-consultation. Or you can attend one of the upcoming public open houses to discuss the government’s proposed approach and point to the need for continued growth in renewable energy development (click here for dates and locations).
We’ve been waiting far too long for government leadership on climate. That’s why it is critical that we get behind the Ontario government’s efforts and show them that the people of this province are indeed ready for “bold action.”
Header image attribution: “#ds163” by dolmansaxlil is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0