Toronto·Analysis

Ontario's climate change action plan: what it needs to succeed

Ontario's new action plan to tackle climate change will be released today. Here's what it will take for the plan to become a success.

Kathleen Wynne will stake her re-election hopes on $8.3 billion plan to cut carbon emissions

The Ontario government's new climate change action plan will be so sweeping, it will undoubtedly become a crucial ballot question when voters decide whether to re-elect Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals in 2018. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Premier Kathleen Wynne's showpiece action plan for tackling climate change will be unveiled today and it will have an impact on the way every single Ontarian consumes energy, whether through transportation, home heating, or manufacturing. 

Wynne is making the fight to reduce carbon emissions a pillar of her premiership. Her climate change action plan is so sweeping, it can't help but become a crucial ballot question when Ontarians decide whether to re-elect the Liberals in 2018. 

The Liberals have already leaked some of the action plan ahead of its official launch Wednesday. It appears to be grounded in incentives to get people to consume less fossil fuel, such as rebates to make homes more energy efficient, all paid for by selling some $1.9 billion worth of carbon-emitting permits to industry every year. 

For the plan to succeed, here's what it must achieve:

1. Actually reduce carbon emissions

The whole point of an action plan to tackle climate change is to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change. The Wynne government has not only agreed to specific emission reduction targets at an international conference, it has enshrined the targets in law.

Ontario's greenhouse-gas emission targets (reductions from 1990 levels) 

  • 15 per cent cut by 2020 
  • 37 per cent by 2030
  • 80 per cent by 2050

Transportation and buildings are Ontario's two biggest sources of carbon emissions, so reducing greenhouse gases in those areas is essential. Environmental campaigners will be combing the fine print of the plan today, assessing whether its mix of carrots and sticks to reduce carbon emission can actually accomplish the goal.

Patrick DeRochie, climate and energy program manager for the group Environmental Defence, supports what he's seen so far. 

"This is really going to put Ontario on the path toward emission reductions and meeting those climate targets," DeRochie said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News. 

He prefers Ontario's approach of reinvesting the proceeds from cap-and-trade auctions into projects that will further reduce emissions.

By contrast, British Columbia hands the money generated from its carbon tax back to people in income-tax reductions, to make it revenue-neutral.

"They're actually seeing there that they're not meeting their climate targets," said DeRochie. 

2. Not raise costs too drastically

Wynne and the Liberals are telling Ontarians the climate change plan will cost the average household just $13 extra per month. There's plenty of skepticism about this analysis. By contrast, if you take the Liberals' projection that cap and trade will generate $1.9 billion a year for the treasury, and assume those costs are passed on to the province's five million households, that works out to $31 a month each.

With the average hydro bill in Ontario already up nearly 40 per cent since 2010, new price hikes to fuel your car and heat your home won't win the climate change action plan a lot of friends. The success of the plan will depend on whether it makes too many people feel they're paying too much.      

3. Appeal to big business and the little guy 

Since the plan is going to raise costs, the Liberals are aware they have to offer goodies to make people feel they're getting something out of it.

Building new transit lines is a start. The plan will also offer up to $600 million to homeowners to do energy efficiency retrofits, such as new windows and insulation. Industries will also get subsidies to help reduce their carbon emissions 

Climate change is 'the greatest threat that’s facing mankind,' Premier Kathleen Wynne told the Legislature Monday, ahead of the unveiling of her new climate change action plan.

DeRochie says the Liberals are making the climate change plan attractive by spreading around its benefits.

"There's something in this for everyone, whether it's improved public and personal health, more jobs and business opportunities in the clean economy, more livable, smart-growth cities," he said.  

NDP leader Andrea Horwath questioned whether the Liberals have brought people on side while developing the plan.

"When you undertake these kinds of major projects, these kinds of major shifts and changes, you need to engage people early and get them to be accepting and champions of the change," Horwath told reporters Tuesday. "As opposed to a top-down approach, which unfortunately it looks like the government's taking again."  

4. Help the Liberals win the next election

Tackling climate change polls well with voters right now. It's something most people say they want done. But whether Ontarians will actually vote for a party because it's willing to take strong action on climate change remains to be seen. It's also an open question about whether the Liberals are truly taking strong action. 

While opposition leader Patrick Brown has shifted his Progressive Conservatives toward acknowledging that climate change is a real threat, he's not committing to keeping the cap and trade system that's at the heart of the Liberals' action plan. He's made noises instead about preferring a revenue-neutral carbon tax, like British Columbia's. 

If Brown wins in 2018, he could conceivably withdraw Ontario from the cap and trade market, dismantle the action plan, and with it, Wynne's would-be legacy as the environmental premier

Far too much can happen in the next two years to say that the Liberal climate change plan will be the make-or-break factor for Wynne at the polls. But there's no question the way voters feel about the plan will have a strong influence on the election outcome in 2018.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.

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