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REMARKS - Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2011 Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report

Tuesday, May 31st 2011 10:18:36am


Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
2011 Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report

Legislative Media Studio, Queen's Park
10:00 a.m., Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Check Against Delivery

Pursuant to my legislative obligation in the Environmental Bill of Rights, today I am releasing my 3rd Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report, entitled "Meeting Responsibilities: Creating Opportunities."

I think it is significant that this report is coming out at a time the North American continent is experiencing extensive and wide ranging extreme weather events of unprecedented severity.  Such floods, droughts, torrents and tornadoes are exactly what are predicted by models of unmitigated climate change and perhaps that is what we are seeing. Or perhaps, to use a Shakespearian analogy, it is real world pathetic fallacy to the theater of the tempest in climate change policy across North America where anger, confusion, chaos and uncertainty reign.  

How are we doing and is it enough? These are the questions that challenge all political jurisdictions seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Ontario I address those questions by considering progress on the 2007 Climate Change Action Plan and the answers in my report are not as straight forward as one might expect.

Four years into the CCAP process how are we doing? You will recall that the Ontario emissions of GHGs reported to the United Nations by Canada for 2007 and 2008 were 200 and 190 Mt hopefully headed toward a target of 166 Mt for the year 2014. Just days ago the Federal Government released the numbers for 2009. For Ontario the emissions reported for 2009 were 165 Mt, slightly below the 2014 target. Superficially one might react by saying "job done." But that is not the situation.  

The tremendous drop in emissions between 2008 and 2009 were coincident with a corresponding severe drop in economic output. The GDP of the province contracted by 3.6% that year, and GHG emissions are to some degree coupled with economic activity. The economy grew again by 2.8% in 2010. We won't know exactly what that meant for GHG emissions until the Federal Government releases its 2010 numbers next April, but because of that coupling we expect that emissions will grow correspondingly. The Province recognises this to some degree because in their recent CCAP update report they conclude that the province will be 4Mt over the 166 Mt target in 2014.

In our analysis we have looked more closely at this relationship and considered the GDP growth estimates projected by the Government for the next few years in their latest budget.  Even by choosing the most favourable relationship between grams of CO2 and dollars of GDP, the best projection we can calculate for 2014 with this amount of economic growth puts the Province not 4 Mt but 13Mt over their target. So how are we doing and is it enough? We are not going to make the 2014 target or the 2020 target on our present trajectory with our present tools. And no, it's not enough.

The program has to be designed, managed and implemented better. I have identified before and now am calling for the overall targets to be broken down into sector targets so that we can identify what parts of the plan are working and which are not. Take transportation for example, it accounts for about of a third of all emissions, yet not only are we failing to aggressively address reductions in this sector but the government has actually terminated three of the GHG reduction programs that were operating in that sector.

I am calling for the Province to figure out how to put a price on carbon. B.C. has a carbon tax, Alberta has a de facto tax and Quebec has a carbon levy on all fuels. Pricing carbon now - however modestly - begins to prepare the economy for the coming transition when the price of carbon becomes embedded in international trade and commerce.

And we clearly need more GHG reduction tools in the tool kit. What we are using isn't enough. In that regard my report challenges the Government on what we might do differently and what we might do new. For example, I am strongly recommending that the Ministry of Environment take a fresh and closer look at our programs to incent landfill gas extraction for energy production. There is evidence that current practices may be making things worse because of the escape of fugitive emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. And with respect to new opportunities, I direct the Province's attention to the potential to sequester large amounts of carbon in agricultural soils, something that we have not pursued in Ontario to date.

It is time to reconsider what we are trying to achieve with CCAP and why.  So far in 2011, Ontario may have been spared the trauma of extreme weather events but we may not be so lucky in the future.  But regardless, nothing has diminished our obligation to the world community and the generations to come to do our best to mitigate the climate crisis that is upon us.  I will take any questionsMore Work Needed if Ontario to Meet Climate Change Responsibilities.