Categories
Climate

Indigenous climate action and moose

I was delighted to listen to the most recent episode of the Indigenous Climate Action pod, called “In the Know – Respect the Moose”. This episode focusses on the animals’ long-term relationship with indigenous peoples across Canada, and how that relationship is threatened by #SportHunting, #LoggingRoads, #ClimateChange and other non-indigenous actions.

Moose populations dropping in Ontario
Moose populations collapsing in Ontario

In 2016, one of my first reports to the Legislature as the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario focussed on the frightening plunge in moose populations, caused by these very things. I reported:

“There are many pressures on moose, including habitat degradation, disease and parasites (e.g., winter ticks, liver fluke, brainworm), hunting, predation and weather. Climate change is an increasingly serious threat.…Ontario has approximately 98,000 licensed hunters – more than one licensed hunter for every moose in Ontario – plus Aboriginal peoples with a constitutional or treaty right to take moose without a licence.”

Every single one of those licensed hunters is allowed to kill a calf every single year, and many are allowed to kill cows. Logging roads increasingly cut up what used to be roadless wilderness, while climate wildfires destroy habitat and make the remaining animals easy prey for hunters. No wonder populations had already dropped 20% in just 10 years.

In the five years since then, neither the Conservative nor the Liberal governments have done anything to stop the devastation.

Categories
Climate

Of course land is not interchangeable

So the Ford government will protect some land somewhere in exchange for its dozens of abusive, developer- friendly MZOs? That only makes it ok if land is interchangeable like Lego blocks. Which is nonsense. Of course they should expand protected areas; Ontario has only a fraction of the protected areas that the whole world has agreed to. But that will never make up for the damage they cause by destroying irreplaceable public assets in critical locations, like the Duffin Creek Wetlands.

Categories
Climate

Can PACE take off?

Municipalities across Canada are grappling with how to honour their climate emergency declarations and net-zero commitments. To reach net-zero by 2050, municipalities would have to ensure deep energy efficiency and /or renewable energy retrofits in an average of ~3% of existing buildings every year, starting now. PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) programs could help tackle this huge task, but only if they grow at unprecedented speed to unprecedented size. Can it be done?

Building emissions are rising

Climate pollution (greenhouse gases, refrigerants and soot) from heating and cooling buildings is a large proportion of most municipalities’ emissions, though only 12% of Canada’s total. Emissions from buildings have increased 9.5% since 1990, as increases in population and floor space have more than offset efficiency improvements. This is one of the reasons that Canada’s emissions increased again in 2019, directly contrary to our international commitments under the Paris Agreement..

Yet in the challenging journey to net zero, eliminating emissions from heating and cooling buildings is one of the easier tasks. Older buildings, in particular, waste large amounts of fossil fuels, largely because so much air and energy leaks through their walls, roof, floor, doors and windows. We already have the technology to fix this, and would reap many benefits from doing so.

Most people would prefer to live and work in buildings that are draft-free, warm in the winter and cool in the summer, inexpensive to keep that way and non-polluting. These buildings can have much better indoor air quality and therefore occupant health. This is particularly important in areas with persistent or occasional periods of intense air pollution, e.g. due to wildfires. A source of renewable energy, such as solar or geothermal, can add self-sufficiency and resilience. In the 2021 Texas blackouts, efficient homes with their own solar avoided the misery and broken pipes that plagued so many of their neighbours.

Then why do existing buildings so rarely receive meaningful energy upgrades, even when they are renovated? Chapter 3 of my last report, A Healthy, Happy, Prosperous OntarioWhy we need more energy conservation, showed that challenges financing the upfront cost are one of the main obstacles.

Why PACE Financing works

Municipalities can play a key role in providing access to attractive financing for the incremental costs of energy retrofits, because of their ability to unlock Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) / local improvement charge programs. PACE programs lend willing property owners the cost of the upgrades through low-interest, long-term, fixed-rate loans secured through the property tax mechanism. The owner’s utility savings[i] help pay back the loan, which can stay with the property or be paid out when it is sold.

PACE programs resolve several significant barriers: property owners don’t have to put money up front, the interest rate does not change, their credit rating may not matter, and they don’t have to keep paying back the loan if they move.[ii] The loan is low risk because it is secured through the property tax, which has low defaults, high priority and adequate security.

Well-designed PACE programs make good financial and environmental sense, although they take patience. For example, Halifax Solar City PV systems cost an average $20,000 for estimated savings of $57,000 over 25 years. A study for Our Energy Guelph calculated that a $3.2 billion investment in community energy, 2/3 of it in building retrofits funded through PACE, would yield $4.9 billion in 30 years, through energy savings, carbon price savings and electricity sales. Plus they would slash carbon emissions and make homes more comfortable.

There are at least 34 clean energy financing programs available across Canada. Halifax Solar City was the first, launching in 2013. It has financed most of the solar water heaters and PV in its city.

Yet, despite many pilot projects and an alphabet soup of programs,[iii] Canadian PACE programs have not achieved either speed or scale. Instead, they run into obstacles that should be easy to fix. For example, half of all applicants to Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) were unable to proceed with their retrofit because their mortgagee didn’t consent. (City of Toronto, 2017). US PACE programs have been leaving us in the dust, despite the hostile leadership of the Trump years. Given the need for urgent, transformative change, what could make Canadian PACE programs take off?

Three key steps to takeoff

Here are three key steps that could make the difference:

  1. Ensuring that mortgagees cannot block PACE loans for energy upgrades.
    1. There is no legitimate reason to allow mortgagees to block PACE loans for energy upgrades. Property tax default rates are low, and properties that have undergone PACE upgrades have an even lower than average default rate.[iv] Equally important,  according to a study in the Journal of Structured Finance: energy upgrades are the only renovation that yield a larger increase in property value than they cost.
    1. This obstacle could easily be resolved by legislation, and /or by provincial governments setting up a loan loss reserve to protect mortgagees.
    1. In the meantime, municipal councils can ask local banks and credit unions for formal commitments to automatically consent to PACE upgrades.
  • Encouraging private sector funding of PACE loans.
    • Few municipalities have the spare capital to fund PACE themselves. Some compete for federal government funds via the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), plus local government dollars and perhaps a little private capital.[v] This approach cannot provide enough money to scale. It’s great that the federal government has increased the FCM Green Municipal Fund to ~$1 billion, including a $300 million Community Efficiency Financing Plan. But it could take >$800 billion to retrofit all existing buildings across Canada.
    • The private sector can provide money at this scale, and is indeed eager to do so, but is having trouble finding appropriate programs to fund without excessive risk or administrative costs. PACE programs could be a good fit. They can qualify for municipal green bonds, which are finding strong market appetite at better than usual rates. An inexpensive government loan loss reserve would make these programs especially appealing, and would minimize interest rates to homeowners.
    • In addition, private sector funding could be at less risk of disruption by elections. Reducing political risk can improve  contractor capacity, supplier capacity, customer awareness, and customer confidence.

 Our Energy Guelph hopes to fill this role in Canada. If they, or a similar organization, succeed, Canadian municipalities may be able to grow their PACE programs at unprecedented speed to unprecedented size, and kick start building retrofits across the country. After all, on the road to net zero, funding building retrofits is one of the easier problems.

This article was first published in Corporate Knights, https://www.corporateknights.com/channels/built-environment/canadas-buildings-are-a-climate-drag-can-they-pick-up-the-pace-16230600/


[i] In some cases, utility savings make retrofits cost neutral to the homeowner. The owner also receives improved comfort, higher resale value, and reduced capital equipment costs, and knows they are doing something about our greatest crisis.

[ii] This is important since the average homeowner moves every few years, while deep retrofits can take a decade or more to pay back. The purchaser automatically takes over the loan obligation.

[iii] E.g. CHEERIO, the Collaboration on Home Energy Efficiency Retrofits in Ontario

[iv] DBRS, “DBRS Publishes Commentary on Residential PACE Delinquency Trends” (22 February 2018), online: <www.dbrs.com/research/323286/dbrs-publishes-commentary-on-residential-pace-delinquency-trends>.

[v] Ottawa, for example, has announced a pilot project combining FCM funding with a loan from the Vancity Community Investment Bank.

Categories
Climate

Blockbuster report from International Energy Agency, Net Zero by 2050

Last week, a blockbuster report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Net Zero by 2050, confirmed that virtually everything Doug Ford has done on energy policy is taking us in the wrong direction.

This is a big deal. You know the tide is turning when mainstream energy organizations, like the IEA, long dominated by oil and gas, are calling on governments to immediately stop investments in oil and gas. The path to Net Zero by 2050, to give  the world a chance to keep global heating below 1.5˚C, “requires immediate and massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies” and stopping new investments in fossil fuels. Doug Ford’s Conservatives have done exactly the opposite.

What we needWhat Ford’s Conservatives have done instead
rapid scaling up of solar and wind powercancelled 752 clean power projects, mostly solar and wind, driving solar and wind companies out of the province
limiting the burning of fossil gaspoured public money into making more dirty electricity from fossil gas
energy efficiencyslashed energy efficiency programs
carbon pricingspent $30 million in a losing fight against carbon pricing
60% of all new vehicles electric by 2040Cancelled incentives to buy electric vehicles, tore out EV charging stations at Metrolinx stations
major investments in new clean technologiescancelled much of Ontario’s funding for new clean technologies
Reduce highway speedsIncreased highway speeds

Renewable energy is cheaper, more feasible and more accessible than ever before.  The net zero transition can create millions of good jobs and improve air quality and human health.


But, because of Doug Ford and his Conservatives, Ontario is going in the wrong direction.
We’re missing out on a huge economic opportunity and the chance for good, clean jobs that will benefit the future of Ontarians and the planet.

Categories
Climate

Carbon pricing talk

I am keeping up a regular schedule of climate talks, all on zoom these days. Two popular climate talks are trying out policy options through the #En-ROADS climate simulator, and an Introduction to Carbon Pricing in Ontario. You can join an En-ROADS climate talk workshop at next week’s PPX symposium, or watch a pre-recorded one at Climate Interactive. The slides from my May 19, 2021 climate talk on #carbonpricing are here. Let me know if you’d like me to speak to your group.

Categories
Climate

What have I done during Covid?

Covid has changed most people’s lives. Covid cut me off from family and friends, and brought a crashing halt to my packed calendar of climate talks. So what have I done instead? My updates include:

1. Re-opening my environmental law practice, SaxeFacts Law Professional Corporation;

2. Receiving the Law Society Medal for exemplary leadership in environmental law;

3. Becoming a certified climate ambassador for the EnROADS climate policy simulator;

4. Receiving the Global Competent Boards Designation,

5. Becoming leader, with Ambassador Rosemary McCarney, of the Massey College climate initiative;

6. Launching my podcast on Canada’s green business leaders, Green Economy Heroes (https://saxefacts.com/green-economy-heroes-podcast/ )

7. Becoming deputy leader of the Ontario Green Party; and

8. Becoming the Green Party candidate for University Rosedale.

Plus I now have an amazing metal / plastic shoulder!

Can’t wait until I can share a meal with family and friends again. Hopefully sometime in the next few months…

Categories
Climate

Celebrating Earth Day, 2021

What are you doing to celebrate Earth Day, 2021? Maybe join me? I’ll be:

Happy Earth Day!

Categories
Climate

ESG and good corporate governance

I’m delighted to announce that I successfully completed a six month intensive course in good corporate governance, focussing on environmental, social and governance aspects of being a corporate director.

This was a ground-breaking, professional development program for directors on how to identify, articulate, and confidently act upon the most material environmental, social and governance aspects of a business. The program covers ESG, Climate, Diversity & Inclusion, Human Rights, SDGs, Supply Chain, Anti Corruption, Transparency, Data Use, Cybersecurity, Tax, Investment, Pay, Engagement & Disclosure, and is supported by 80 global board chairs, board members, executives, investors and experts

Categories
Climate

Join me for two great webinars on carbon pricing

Following the Supreme Court decision, upholding the federal carbon pricing law, smart prosperity hosted two great conversations. I moderated the first webinar, on the legal significance of the case, and represented the Green party in the second webinar on the politics of carbon pricing. Both were high quality conversations with knowledgeable people, lots of Insight for the time invested. Don’t miss them.

Our great all-party panel on the Politics of #CarbonPricing after the #SupremeCourt decision was between myself and Mia RabsonKen BoessenkoolGerald ButtsBrian Topp, and Dale Beugin. Watch it now at 

https://institute.smartprosperity.ca/multimedia/politics-carbon-pricing

#climatecrisis #climateaction

Categories
Climate

Carbon pricing win at Supreme Court- now the real work begins

In our growing climate crisis, March 25 was a pretty good day. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected Conservative premiers’ attacks on Canada’s federal carbon pricing law, despite our complicated constitution. This should be the end of the anti-carbon-price dead end. We have a real job to do. 

The climate crisis is an overwhelming threat to human civilization. Its dangers have been clear for decades. We know what climate action can keep a stable climate: it includes slashing our emissions of greenhouse gas pollution by half this decade. 

No question, this will take work. For a century, we have built our infrastructure and our economy around burning fossil fuels. We have a small population, but we are one of the world’s worst carbon polluters both at home and abroad. Canada has profited heavily from digging up fossil fuels, especially petroleum from the oil sands. What Canada does about the climate crisis matters. Having wasted decades without effective climate action, we now have little time and a great deal to do. 

Fortunately, we have some excellent tools. The single most powerful is carbon pricing. It cannot solve the climate crisis on its own, but it levels the playing field between fossil fuels and a cleaner future, it rewards innovation and it reduces cost. When pollution is “free” we get more of it; when polluters pay for their damage, it’s remarkable how quickly they find alternatives. Without a carbon price, we will probably  speed ever faster towards climate breakdown. 

In the teeth of this emergency, the Conservative attack on the carbon price was a terrible waste of time, money and energy. Carbon pricing was a right wing invention, a market-based alternative to government regulation. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party, which just voted again to deny that climate change is real, has made opposing carbon prices a badge of loyalty, without offering anything in return. 

The Conservative premiers who spent millions attacking the federal law dismantled climate action in their own provinces. Doug Ford’s “Environment Plan” emphasizes litter pick up, while driving up emissions and air pollution with gas-fired electricity, highways and sprawl. When Erin O’Toole releases his carbon-price-free plan, I expect him to promise tree planting, nuclear power, and using CO2 to extract oil, expensive measures that will achieve little any time soon. 

Bottom line: the Conservatives do not offer a better alternative to carbon pricing, just delay, denial and greenwashing. No expensive future technology will somehow make everything fine. Planting trees and picking up litter are worthwhile, but continuing to burn fossil fuels as if  pollution  were “free” is a dead end. 

With Conservative provinces refusing to act, the federal Liberals stepped in with the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.The Conservatives turned this into a multi-year,  multi-million dollar turf war, which the Supreme Court has now mercifully brought to an end. The decision is a tough read, primarily concerned with how to squeeze carbon pricing into our constitutional straitjacket after 150 years of federal-provincial disputes. Ultimately, six judges upheld the Act, because do-nothing provinces threaten Canada as a whole. 

Now what? Canadians know we are in a climate crisis and want to see strong climate action, though most wrongly believe that Canada is already an environmental leader. To be honest, the carbon price has been too low (and its future too uncertain) to have driven down our emissions yet. It should have more impact now, with the price scheduled to increase, but many other initiatives are necessary if we are to get off fossil fuels in time. 

We need strong laws and strong regulations. We need a strong climate lens on every decision that governments make. We need transparent climate reporting. We need to disrupt fossil fuel lock-in. We need to protect nature. We need to make it easier, safer and more convenient to choose clean options. And we need to use the climate crisis, wherever possible, as a trigger to make health and inequality better.

Today, thank you to everyone who made this victory happen. Tomorrow, we must all go back to work. This case was an unfortunate sideshow. The real battles for meaningful climate action are ahead.

Dianne Saxe 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

This article appeared first in the Toronto Star.