Greenwashing: the Ford government climate plan

Here is our op ed from the Toronto Star, published November 29, 2019, the anniversary of this "plan".

Again, today, youth-led protests around the world are calling for action on the climate crisis. Today also marks the one-year anniversary of Ontario’s Environment Plan, in which Premier Ford’s government largely walked away from climate action.

Instead, they have damaged or broken most of Ontario’s policies to build a green economy. They cancelled cap and trade, abandoned strong emission reduction targets, repealed our climate law, clawed back grants for clean, quiet electric buses and other clean technologies, forced gas customers to subsidize new pipelines, ordered gas stations to post misleading anti-carbon-price stickers, tore down a wind farm and slashed energy conservation.

They also waste public funds fighting proven solutions, $30 million for the losing fight against carbon pricing and $231 million plus to rip up 752 clean power contracts. If that weren’t enough, they turbo-charged sprawl, the largest cause of Ontario’s climate pollution, attacked conservation authorities and health units, and weakened protections for the wetlands that protect us from floods.

Until the June 2018 election, Ontario’s provincial government was a climate leader. Now it is an obstacle to climate action, and a perfect example of what gets people out in the streets demanding change.

That is why we three - a youth leader from Fridays for Future Toronto, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and a nonprofit climate advocate - are on the Queen’s Park lawn today to express public demands for urgent action.

We are not alone. 70 per cent of Ontario MPs support carbon pricing, and more than 30 Ontario municipalities have declared climate emergencies. In September, Ontarians marched in youth-led climate strikes across the province, including 50,000 in Toronto alone. Yet, the voices of youth and many others have been excluded, while the government’s door stays open to industry lobbyists.

Ontarians know that pro-fossil, anti-climate policies are dangerous to us here, not just to polar bears and to people in other places. Ontario’s insured losses from catastrophic extreme weather soared to $1.4 billion last year. The Bank of Canada recognizes that climate change is a “key vulnerability” in the Canadian financial system. Health professionals tell us that the climate crisis is the largest threat to human health, and will seriously affect today’s children and youth.

Expert report after expert report has shown that humans must cut our climate pollution in half by 2030 if we want a stable climate. This means cutting our fossil fuel use in half in about ten years. If we do, the opportunities outweigh the costs, and improving public infrastructure and public transportation will benefit us all. The road there starts with climate justice, and including front-line communities who suffer greater climate impacts. Effective action includes pricing pollution, stopping sprawl, and protecting nature.

Instead, the government’s “Environment Plan” is a mishmash of ignoring facts; claiming credit for the actions of others; and weak proposals without follow through. For example, the Plan “forgets” the increased emissions that will come from increasing urban sprawl and natural gas use, and from cancelling clean power and energy conservation.

The Plan predicts lots of electric vehicles. If so, federal EV incentives will deserve the credit. The Ontario government cancelled its EV incentives, which won’t help companies like General Motors decide to make EVs here. The provincial government even repealed the Building Code rule that would have made room for EV chargers in new homes.

Weak proposals include the government’s plan to duplicate and weaken the federal carbon price for industrial polluters, expensively recreating something much like the cap-and-trade system that they cancelled last year. Their proposed “reverse auction” to pay polluters to cut emissions was tried in Australia with little success, and their “Carbon Trust” looks unlikely to work any better.

This Plan also jeopardizes Canada’s climate ambition and reputation. Canada is one of the ten largest climate-polluting countries on the planet, and much of that pollution comes from Ontario. The policies that the Ford government cancelled were critical to Canada meeting our international commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Bottom line: The “Environment Plan” is greenwashing, an attempt to hide this government’s indifference to the climate crisis which threatens young people’s future. Youth leadership is inspiring Ontarians across the province to call them on it, and to demand real facts, honest conversations and strong climate action.

By:

Dianne Saxe – Former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Allie Rougeot – Fridays For Future Toronto Coordinator Sarah Buchanan – Clean Economy Program Manager, Environmental Defence

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