Ontario’s climate change policy continues to evolve. In February 2015, Ontario released a Climate Change Discussion Paper to help frame the issues for public consultation and in April 2015, it was announced that Ontario would implement a cap and trade program that would link to the existing cap and trade systems in Québec and California.

On the heels of the release of its recent Cap and Trade Program Design Options consultation paper, the Ontario government introduced the province’s Climate Change Strategy on November 24, 2015. The strategy, which is what Ontario will present to the world at the international climate talks in Paris in December 2015, sets out in broad terms the government’s near and long-term vision for a low-carbon future. The Ontario government has said that it will release a detailed five-year action plan in 2016, which will include specific commitments to meet near-term 2020 emissions reduction targets. The detailed action plan will also establish the framework necessary for Ontario to meet its 2030 and 2050 emission reduction targets. Ontario has set an interim emissions reduction target of 37% below 1990 levels by 2030 and a long-term target of an 80% reduction in emissions over 1990 levels by 2050.

Under the Climate Change Strategy, the government will:

  • introduce climate legislation to establish a long-term framework for action and enshrine the cap and trade program in law;
  • integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation considerations into government decision-making and infrastructure planning; and
  • introduce changes to government operations, procurement, employee training, building retrofits and other areas to help government move towards carbon neutrality.

The government will also report on and renew its action plan every five years. This strategy is intended to support Ontario’s proposed cap and trade program and complements earlier climate initiatives, which include establishing a 2030 mid-term emissions reduction target, bringing an end to coal-fired electricity generation, and electrifying Ontario’s commuter rail network.

Most of Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation, industry and buildings sectors. To tackle these emissions, the Ontario government will implement complementary, sector-specific actions, including:

  • reducing transportation emissions by promoting the uptake of zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles, ensuring access to affordable and fast public charging, introducing a modernized vehicle price incentive, making the green plate program permanent, and reducing emissions through use of automated vehicles;
  • reducing emissions from goods movement and exploring additional low-carbon fuel opportunities through the increased use of natural gas and low-carbon fuels in goods movement and the broad-based electrification of the transportation sector generally; and
  • developing a coordinated approach to reduce emissions from new and existing buildings through net-zero building initiatives, energy retrofit programs, updates to Ontario’s Building Code, and incentive programs

The strategy also sets out priorities for turning Ontario into a global hub for clean technology, becoming a resource efficient society, and making Ontario communities climate resilient. Among the key policy actions, Ontario plans to:

  • establish greenhouse gas emission reductions as a priority in the next Long-Term Energy Plan (renewable energy targets to 2025 were established in Ontario’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan);
  • support new energy and emissions management approaches through fuel switching and energy reduction, as well as build green infrastructure to minimize climate impacts such as urban heat island effects;
  • review and make recommendations regarding existing policies and programs that support fossil fuel use and fossil fuel intensive technologies, with a view to removing existing initiatives that support fossil fuel use and potentially freeing up resources to better support sustainable development and clean technologies;
  • implement a resource recovery and waste reduction framework to assist Ontario’s shift to a circular economy, which will help to reduce emissions from landfills and industrial production;
  • develop an approach to assess emissions and absorption from agriculture, forestry and other land uses in order to better understand carbon sinks; and
  • develop a one-window source for climate data through the establishment of a climate change modeling collaborative for climate data.

Although the strategy is short on details, it provides an indicator of the Ontario government’s policy priorities for near and long-term climate action. As Ontario gradually develops its program specifics, stakeholders will continue to play the climate change long game.