Auditor general’s report finds Ontario not using ‘sound evidence’ in climate change plan

Ford government’s environmental plan relies on overestimations, projects that don’t exist yet

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk on Wednesday released her first report since becoming responsible for examining Ontario’s environmental policies. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Ontario’s auditor general says the Ford government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and battle climate change is not supported by sound evidence.

Bonnie Lysysk’s 2019 report found that Ontario is overestimating the potential impact of its new environmental plan.

She said the government has also miscalculated some estimates and made policy changes that could discourage further emission reductions.

“Our office’s analysis found that the emissions reductions in the plan are not yet supported by sound evidence,” Lysysk writes in the report, which includes recommendations to help Ontario achieve reduction targets outlined in the Paris agreement.

It is the first auditor general report released since the Progressive Conservative government abolished the province’s environmental commissioner position in April. That office was previously responsible for examining environmental policies.

Details of Lysyk’s environmental findings were first reported by CBC News last week.

The Progressive Conservative government has made sweeping changes to Ontario’s environmental policies since the 2018 election, introducing what it calls a “made-in-Ontario” environmental plan.

The province estimates that its new approach will still meet federal reduction targets of 30 per cent below 2005 emission levels, or the equivalent of 17.6 megatonnes by 2030.

But that estimate is based on an older forecast that accounted for initiatives around electricity conservation, renewable energy and cap-and-trade — programs that have all been cancelled by the Ford government.

Lysyk estimates the new plan will only reduce emissions by between 6.3 and 13 megatonnes by 2030.

“We found that they need to do more modelling, more research and more specific identification of ways to [reduce emissions],” she told reporters.

Double counting

The report also determined the Ford government is relying on future developments that may not be realized.

The province estimates there will be 1.3 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in 2030 — a 3,000 per cent increase from the current 41,000 EVs on the road — amounting to a 2.6 megatonne reduction.

However, that forecast factors in substantial government incentives designed to make EVs more affordable. The Ford government cancelled those incentives in the summer of 2018.

The government is also counting on more homeowners switching to renewable natural gas, amounting to a 2.3 megatonne reduction. But according to the auditor general report, “evidence shows that the higher cost of renewable natural gas means that few customers would switch.”

Ontario’s new climate plan also relies on unspecified future innovations by the private sector to reduce emissions by an additional 2.2 megatonnes.

“The ministry was unable to provide any evidence to support this estimate,” the report says.

In some instances, Lysyk also found the province was double counting emission reductions, such as in programs designed to reduce natural gas emissions.

She is recommending that Ontario increase transparency around its environmental plan and release more frequent updates on its objectives and achievements.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has overseen sweeping changes to the province’s environment and climate change plans since taking office in 2018. Wednesday’s report suggests the approach falls short in several areas. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

PCs defend plan

Despite the numerous issues and recommendations laid out in the auditor general’s report, Ontario’s Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said the province remains committed to meeting or perhaps exceeding the 2030 emissions target.

“We have a plan. The auditor general didn’t say it was terrible, she said that it needed to be tightened up,” Yurek said. “We totally agree with that.”

He described the government’s environmental plan as an evolving document that will be altered over time to meet new demands and account for future developments.

He did not announce any plans to revive previous environmental initiatives, such as the EV incentive program.

“People themselves have an individual choice and responsibility. When they’re purchasing their next vehicle, I’m hoping they’re looking at electric vehicles,” Yurek said.

Opposition parties denounced the Ford government’s response to the audit.

“Magic math and magic markets will not solve the climate emergency,” said Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario.

“The Ford government is acting like the climate crisis isn’t even a problem,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Health and safety

The expanded report, which spans more than 1,200 pages, identified dozens of other areas where Ontario could make improvements.

Auditors found that Ontario’s 77,000 residents living in 626 long-term care homes do not always receive “established standards for nutritional value or quality.” There were approximately 1.3 food-related incidents reported every day starting in January 2018.

At one long-term care home, residents were served liquid whole eggs three months past their best-before date, according to the report.

Lysyk also found that wait times for addiction treatments, hospital admissions and deaths related to opiates are on the rise, despite Ontario increasing its investments in combating the epidemic. In 2018, more than four people died every day in Ontario due to opiates.

The report found that inmates with mental health issues are sometimes placed in solitary confinement because guards are not properly trained. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

“We found that the Ministry of Health does not allocate funding to addictions treatment programs based on need,” Lysyk wrote.

She also noted that Ontario could make improvements to its inspections of commercial vehicles, which currently have a higher fatality and injury rate than Canada as a whole and than the United States.

Lysyk found the provincial government missed an opportunity to remove thousands of unsafe vehicles from roads due to a decrease in inspections, primarily under the previous Liberal government between 2014 and 2018.

Justice and social services

The report also highlighted a growing problem at Ontario’s prisons and jails, which Lysyk says are not equipped to handle a rising population of inmates with mental health issues and those on remand.

Correctional staff are not properly trained to deal with mental health and behavioural issues, the report found, reducing an institution’s ability to properly rehabilitate inmates.

There are also issues among Ontario’s coroners and pathologists, including the practice of coroners conducting death investigations into patients they cared for while they were alive. That amounts to a conflict of interest, the audit says.

The province also does not conduct enough quality reviews of pathologists, auditors found, leading to “low-quality” death investigations in Ontario.

A review or investigation into the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) may also be needed, Lysyk said.

The cost of the program has ballooned 75 per cent over the past 10 years, from $3.1 billion to $5.4 billion.

The number of monthly cases increased by 50 per cent during the same period, although the overall population has only grown by 12 per cent.

Lysyk said Ontario has never investigated why those changes have occurred.

Young Ontarians launch lawsuit against province after Ford government scales back emissions targets

Ontario cancelled cap-and-trade program, challenging carbon tax imposed by Ottawa

Shaelyn Wabegijig, right, is among the seven young people who are applicants in the lawsuit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A group of young Ontarians is suing the province over what they say is climate change inaction, arguing that the Ford government has violated their charter rights by softening emissions reduction targets.

The group claims that recent policy changes “will lead to widespread illness and death,” an alleged violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises protection for life, liberty and security of the person.

They are calling on the Ontario government to commit to more ambitious emission reductions with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, a key target set out in the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Doug Ford is not doing enough to protect our future and it’s just unacceptable,” said Sophia Mathur, a 12-year-old from Sudbury and one of seven applicants taking part.

The claims in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.

“I just want to live a normal life in the future; I shouldn’t have to be doing this, but adults aren’t doing a good job,” she told CBC News.

“I’m afraid that so many species that I love will go extinct,” added Zoe Keary-Matzner, 13, from Toronto. “And that children in the future won’t be able to enjoy nature the same way I do.”

The applicants, ranging from age 12 to 24, are represented by Stockwoods LLP and Ecojustice, a group that specializes in public interest lawsuits in the name of environmental protection.

Their challenge is part of a growing trend in which young people across the globe are suing governments over perceived inaction on climate change.

Sophia Mathur, left, and Zoe Keary-Matzner are among seven young Ontarians who say the Ford government’s climate strategy is jeopardizing their future. (CBC)

Earlier this year, more than a dozen young Canadians launched a similar lawsuit against the federal government. Similar legal challenges have gone to courts in the U.S. and the Netherlands, with varying degrees of success.

This is the first lawsuit filed against a Canadian province over climate inaction.

“Any government that is failing to address the climate emergency in a meaningful way can expect to face litigation of this nature,” said Alan Andrews, climate director at Ecojustice.

Former Environment Minister Rod Phillips oversaw the cancellation of Ontario’s cap-and-trade program and the introduction of lower emissions targets. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

PCs roll back greenhouse gas targets

The group is focusing its lawsuit on the Ford government’s decision to scale back emission targets set by the Liberals in 2015.

The previous plan called for a 37-per-cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The reduction target climbed to 80 per cent by 2050.

Under the Progressive Conservatives, Ontario now plans to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. There is no longer a 2050 target.

The PCs have also repealed a cap-and-trade agreement that gave companies incentives to reduce carbon emissions. They are also in the process of challenging a carbon tax imposed by Ottawa to take its place.

Rod Phillips, who served as Ontario’s environment minister when the changes were made, said the previous targets and restrictions were ineffective and “killing jobs” in the province.

The Ford government says it plans to leverage Ontario’s private sector to develop green technology, and that its new “made in Ontario” climate strategy will keep the province on track to meet Paris Agreement warming targets

A precedent for success?

The young people behind the lawsuit say the new approach ignores the increasing urgency of climate change.

“People are very focused on other things; on making money, focusing on the economy, that they don’t think about their connection to mother earth,” said applicant Shaelyn Wabegijig, 22.

Wabegijig, 22, says she’s concerned about the preservation of clean air and water if she has children in the future. (CBC)

Wabegijig, who grew up at Rama First Nation near Orillia, said she’s concerned about having children if the effects of climate change continue to worsen.

While the result of the challenge is not yet decided, Ecojustice recently scored a mild victory against the province over the cancellation of the cap-and-trade program.

In a split decision, a three judge panel determined the Ford government broke the law by scrapping the program without public consultations, although the ruling does not compel the province to revive the program.

Mathur said Ford would be wise to take their challenge seriously.

“I hope he’s scared,” she said. SOURCE


What’s driving California’s emissions? You guessed it: Cars.

California received plenty of praise back in 2016 when it hit its target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions four years ahead of time. But the Golden State’s progress has slowed, according to a report out Tuesday from a nonpartisan research center. California is now on track to hit its 2030 goal in 2061. Three whole decades late.

The biggest problem: California’s beloved cars.

“This is a sobering report,” said F. Noel Perry, a California investor who founded the center behind the report, Next 10. “We are at a very important point: California is going to need major policy breakthroughs and deep structural changes if we’re going to meet our climate goals.”

What happened? Over the last three years, California has reduced emissions at a rate of only 1.15 percent. At that pace, it would take a century for the state to zero-out carbon emissions. But a law ex-Governor Jerry Brown signed in 2016, requires the state to reach zero emissions by 2050. Since falling behind, the state would need to step up emissions reductions to 4.51 percent every year, according to the report.

Next 10

Next 10’s report, the California Green Innovation Index, shows that the state has plucked most of the low-hanging fruit, mainly by cleaning up electricity production. California’s next challenge is the tougher job of eliminating climate pollutants from transportation, industry, and homes, and offices. And, yes, all of those cars.

Passenger vehicles alone produce nearly a third of California’s emissions, more than all of the electric plants, livestock, and oil refineries in the state put together. Vehicle ownership has reached an all-time high, as has the total miles that Californians are driving. Moreover, “even in climate conscious California we’ve seen a consumer preference shift to favor SUVs and light trucks,” said Adam Fowler of Beacon Economics, which prepared this report for Next 10.

Next 10

Since early 2017, more than half the new passenger vehicles Californians bought were SUVs and trucks.

Another big, related problem is housing. California’s economy is booming, but cities haven’t built the homes needed by all the new workers. That’s forcing more people into suburbs far from public transportation. The report found that the percentage of people choosing public transit “declined substantially throughout most of California between 2008 and 2018.” Failure to build housing is doubly bad because new buildings are much more efficient in terms of insulation,climate control, and energy efficiency. Every new home even gets solar panels.

“This is one of the gnarliest challenges,” Perry said. “How do we reduce commute times and how do we build denser housing?”

It’s not all bad news. California continues to prove it’s possible to cut carbon emissions while the economy expands. From 2016 to 2017, California’s economy per capita grew 3.1 percent while each person’s emissions decreased.

And the authors said that the state still deserves a lot of credit. “California policies have made appliances more efficient, renewable energy cheaper, and given cars better gas mileage all across the country,” Perry said.

Building a department store powered by geothermal and solar

La Maison Simons is working to convert their stores across Canada to net-zero

The clothes that we wear have a far-reaching impact on the planet – from the extraction of the raw materials and manufacturing process all the way down to the mounds of textile waste from fast fashion and other discarded clothing. With all of these environmental concerns, it’s easy to overlook the energy requirements of the buildings that house their retail locations.

Seven years ago, Quebec City-based department store La Maison Simons set out to construct a building that generates as much energy on-site annually as it consumes. Teaming up with Oxford Properties, the shopping centre landlord for its Galeries de la Capitale location, the company began mapping out the different technologies required to become the first major net-zero retail store in the country.

The retailer decided to first road-test some of its plans at the Londonderry Simons store in Edmonton, installing a sizeable 636 kilowatt solar array and making numerous energy efficiency upgrades throughout the building. It led to a building that is 30-40% more energy efficient than an average Simons store, and where half the energy is generated on-site through renewables. It also benefited from an Alberta government green incentive program that covered 25% of the cost of the solar panels.

Simons applied many of the lessons learned from the Edmonton project in designing its net-zero Galeries location, which opened in March 2018 in Quebec City. It doubled the amount of solar power covering the parking lot and roof, while drilling 27 geothermal boreholes into the ground under the parking lot for geothermal heating and cooling. A high-tech LED lighting program combined with an energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system reduced energy consumption by 60% compared to its older location.

Buoyed by positive feedback from customers, the company is now exploring plans for several potential new net-zero retail locations throughout Quebec. MORE

Rosalind Adams: Getting the numbers right on our national emissions reductions.

Image result for emissions cutsWhat needs to be next for Canada’s Green New Deal is to determine what our true and just global responsibility is with regard to emissions cuts. The GND can’t fulfill it if we don’t know it.

I would like to share what I said at the Green New Deal meeting in Picton of July 23:

Getting the numbers right on our national emissions reductions.

The thing I like best about Canada’s Green New Deal is that it recognizes the primacy of saving a livable climate and incorporates this in its first principle. Canada’s Green New Deal also recognizes that saving a livable climate is first and foremost a matter of us in the so-called developed world making drastic cuts in our carbon emissions. There is a limit to the carbon dioxide emissions we can add to the atmosphere over the next decade without crashing the climate. And let’s not forget that within 30 years, that limit is zero.

I’m going to focus, as the GND does, on the next decade.

In order to save a livable climate it is crucial that all the projects and policies we develop going forward are consistent with staying below the 2030 global carbon emissions limit. Yet the Canadian Green New Deal movement does not have a coherent idea of what this is going to take.

This is in spite of having a clear, accessible guide: the IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC. It details the catastrophic risks of going over 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures and the urgency of taking action to stay below that level. And it provides information about the global emissions reductions necessary to do this. Without going through all the math, by 2030 we need to reduce global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions by at least 51.8% from today’s level of 37.1 billion tonnes annually, to 17.9 billion tonnes annually1 or less.2

The first principle of Canada’s Green New Deal asserts that cutting our national emissions in half by 2030 meets the demands of this science.

This is ridiculous!

Canadian carbon emissions are 22 tonnes per person annually.

Halving the Canadian carbon footprint by 2030, factoring in for population growth, would give us a per capita level of about 10 tonnes. That is not consistent with the global emissions level necessary to save a livable climate of 17.9 billion tonnes annually.

What is having a per capita carbon footprint of 10 tonnes consistent with? By 2030 it is projected that the global population is going to be 8.5 billion. You can do the math in your head: 8.5 billion times 10 is 85 billion tonnes annually, which would destroy the climate.

That’s the most important thing I have to say, but I’d like to also talk about how and why cutting national emissions in half over the next decade has gotten to be the dominant meme.  MORE

Climate Emergency Declarations: How Cities Are Leading The Charge

  • By declaring a climate emergency, cities are adopting more powers to help curb the effects of climate change
  • The national government needs to declare an emergency and put resources in place to enable councils to help reduce carbon emissions

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia. GETTY

One Small Step

By declaring a climate emergency, cities are adopting more powers to help curb the effects of climate change . In New York, the city council has set new carbon reduction targets for its major buildings, Sydney have added climate considerationsin any new policy or infrastructure decisions, while Shropshire Council, a rural district in the English Midlands, has committed to being carbon-neutral by 2030. In each case, these local governments have also used their declarations as a means to exert pressure on national decision-makers. There is no single definition of a climate emergency declaration, but many see it as a drive for carbon neutrality and a mandate for further political action.

Bristol councilor Carla Denyer, who helped her city pass one of the United Kingdom’s first local climate emergency declarations in November 2018 explains:

“We are acknowledging we are in an emergency situation. The national government needs to declare an emergency and put resources in place to enable councils to help reduce carbon emissions . It’s the first step to radical action.”

Six months after Bristol made its initial declaration, the United Kingdom became the first country to announce a climate emergency and pledged to dedicate more resources towards mitigating climate change.

In many cases, smaller political structures and more power over local policy have enabled cities to make more ambitious goals for themselves than national governments. The town of Chico in California declared a climate emergency after witnessing the most destructive wildfire in state history. Chico has pledged to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030 and intends to adopt many of the resolutions outlined in the Green New Deal. Rocked by a heatwave that sent temperatures soaring to 47 degrees, Paris is the latest major city to declare a climate emergency. With major emission reduction projects already in place in the French capital, the city council has expanded its environmental plans by announcing it will open a “climate academy” geared to educating the public about the risks of climate change.

Student climate activists hold banners and shout slogans during a Fridays for Future event near the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. Teenagers across the world have mobilized for climate action. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said the continent's policymakers - including environmentalists - are all failing to heed the climate crisis.
Student climate activists hold banners and shout slogans during a Fridays for Future event near the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. Teenagers across the world have mobilized for climate action. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said the continent’s policymakers – including environmentalists – are all failing to heed the climate crisis. © 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP
Deal or no deal

Despite a vast array of pledges and policy changes, many declarations have been made in a more symbolic way. MORE