Ontario veering off track from its climate change targets, internal forecasts reveal

The Ford government is nowhere near on track to achieving its targets for cutting Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions, according to new internal forecasts that have never before been made public.

Ford government's own numbers show province achieving just 20% of promised CO2 reductions by 2030

Premier Doug Ford's government is on track to achieve less than 20 per cent of its promised reductions in carbon emissions by 2030, according to new internal forecast by Ontario's Ministry of the Environment. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

The Ford government is nowhere near on track to achieving its targets for cutting Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions, according to new internal forecasts that have never before been made public.

Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives promised Ontario would match the national climate change targets for 2030 agreed to in the Paris Accord. That would require the province to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 17.6 megatonnes (MT). 

The Ministry of the Environment's internal estimates, made in October, forecast that "committed policies" by the government will bring Ontario just 3.4 MT of emission reductions by 2030, achieving less than 20 per cent of the planned cuts.

The numbers appear in one of seven environmental reports released Monday by Ontario's auditor general, but have been largely overlooked.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk took on the duties of the Legislature's independent environmental watchdog in 2019 after the Ford government scrapped the office of the environmental commissioner. 

This graphic from the Ford government's 2018 Environment Plan shows the greenhouse gas emission reductions expected by 2030. (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks)

The new figures in her report show that the Ford government is "nowhere close to meeting their own targets to fight climate change," said Keith Brooks, programs director for Environmental Defence, the Toronto based advocacy group.

The government's Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, issued in 2018, laid out specific reductions from various sources of carbon emissions to achieve the targeted cuts by 2030. Some examples: 

  • 2.6 MT from having 1.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.
  • 2.3 MT from utilities offering customers the option of purchasing (more expensive) renewable natural gas. 
  • 2.2 MT from what the plan described as "future innovation." 

In her report, Lysyk reveals the Environment Ministry currently forecasts that none of those reductions will be achieved. 

Since October 2020, the ministry has produced internal, monthly updates on Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions outlook. The government has not publicly released the updates but the auditor obtained and analyzed them for her report. 

Those forecasts now exclude any new reductions from use of renewable natural gas, future innovation or electric vehicles, says the auditor's report

David Piccini, Ontario's minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, says: 'We are the only province responsible for Canada's progress' on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  (Ontario Legislative Assembly)

CBC News asked Environment Minister David Piccini on Wednesday if he can look Ontarians in the eye and say that the government will hit its 2030 targets. 

"I can look Ontarians in the eye and say Ontario is a leader in greenhouse gas emissions reduction in this federation," said Piccini. "We are the only province responsible for Canada's progress. That is Ontario, and that is thanks to action Premier Ford has taken." 

Since the Ford government took office in 2018 and scrapped the province's cap-and-trade program, Ontario's emissions have gone up rather than down. 

The latest national figures, which are published with a two-year lag time, show the province's emissions in 2019 were back up as high as they were in 2015. Until 2018, Ontario's emissions had been on a decade-long decline, almost entirely as a result of moves by previous Liberal governments to shut down coal-fired power plants.     

"We're leaving no stone unturned in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Piccini said Wednesday.

Piccini cited new two emission-reduction measures that are neither captured in the 2019 statistics nor covered in the auditor's report: cleaner steel production at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and amendments to make it easier for the cement industry to use alternative fuels. 

The two measures together would result in less than 1 MT of annual emission reductions by 2030, according to government officials. 

The opposition parties are united in slamming the Ford government's record on climate change.   

"We haven't seen any evidence at all that the government's serious about bringing emissions down," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters Wednesday at Queen's Park. "We've seen quite the opposite."

"Somehow this government's going to tackle climate change in the next six months without a plan? They've had three-and-a-half years," said John Fraser, house leader for the Ontario Liberal Party. 

The government's measures with the steel and cement industry are "completely insufficient to deal with the scale of the challenge we face," said Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. "Many of the policies the government is proposing are actually going to ramp up pollution." 

Keith Brooks, the program director with Environmental Defence, disputes the Ford government's claim that building Highway 413 will decrease greenhouse gas emissions. 'We know that new highways put new cars on the road,' Brooks says. (CBC)

Schreiner pointed to the proposed Highway 413, a 59-kilometre highway that would cut an arc across the northwestern edge of the GTA, largely through undeveloped farmland.

While the government claims the highway will reduce emissions by easing congestion, Keith Brooks of Environmental Defence says it will actually increase emissions.   

"This is supported by evidence all over the place. We know that new highways put new cars on the road," said Brooks in an interview. He said building the highway would encourage sprawl and create more car-dependent neighbourhoods. 

The bulk of CO2 emission reductions that are set to be achieved in Ontario by 2030 would come as a result of federal government initiatives such as carbon pricing, Brooks said.   

"It's really important that Ontarians know that what Ontario does on climate change matters a lot," he said.

"The federal government gets a lot of attention for this issue ... but there are lots of measures in provincial hands like the electricity sector, like buildings, like transportation policies." 


Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.