Ontario not on track to achieve 2030 emissions reductions targets: auditor

TORONTO — Ontario is unlikely to meet its 2030 emissions target under its current climate change plan — and Premier Doug Ford’s government knows it, the province’s auditor general said Wednesday in her annual report.

Bonnie Lysyk found a number of issues with the government’s ”Made in Ontario” climate plan, which she said underestimated the starting point for emissions by including several green programs that were actually cancelled by the Progressive Conservatives after they came to power last year.

Some reductions in the plan were double-counted or overstated, while others weren’t backed up by policies to achieve those targets, she said.

“Our audit concluded that the emission-reduction estimates in the plan are not based on sound evidence or sufficient detail,” the report said. “In its current early state, the plan is not likely to achieve its proposed emission-reduction target.”

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek maintained Wednesday that emissions-reductions targets will be met.

“We have a plan, the auditor general didn’t say it was terrible,” he said. “She said it needs to be tightened up. We totally agree with that. It was an ambitious plan we ran right out of the gates with.”

The plan is an evolving one, Yurek said, and going forward the government will do better to ensure its modelling is correct.

“It’s always been a draft plan,” he said. “If it was misrepresented on the website as the environment plan I think that’s a matter of semantics.”

The province would have to reduce emissions by 17.6 megatonnes by 2030 to align with Canada’s target under the Paris Agreement of reducing emissions by 30 per cent by that year from 2005 levels.

But, the auditor found, the government’s plan will only reduce emissions by between 6.3 and 13 megatonnes.

The government’s own analysis shows that the current initiatives in the climate change plan will only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10.9 megatonnes, the report said.

Ontario’s plan estimates emissions reductions based on three scenarios: business as usual with no new climate policies, the current climate change plan, and if additional or enhanced policies are pursued.

It is the additional policy scenario that eyes a 17.6-megatonne reduction, Lysyk said, with the current plan pegged at 10.9 megatonnes. But the plan released to the public merged the expected reductions from those two scenarios, with the document declaring the 2030 target “achievable,” Lysyk wrote.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she has no confidence this government is serious about fighting climate change.

“I think that there’s no doubt that this government is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Ontario and it’s shameful,” she said. “We have a serious climate emergency in front of us. We need a government that’s serious about setting stringent targets…. This government has shown that’s not what they’re interested in.”

The government’s starting point of 160.9 megatonnes of emissions in 2030 if no further action is taken was too low, the auditor found, because it took into account programs that were cancelled by the Tories, such as renewable energy contracts, electricity conservation programs, and the cap-and-trade system implemented by the previous Liberal government.

The ministry estimated in its plan that 2.6 megatonnes in reductions would come from an increased uptake of low-carbon vehicles, assuming 1.3 million electric vehicles will be on the road in 2030.

That number would be a 3,000 per cent increase from the current number of electric vehicles on Ontario’s roads, and would come despite the government cancelling rebates for buying those cars and installing charging stations.

“The ministry was unable to provide details of any planned provincial initiatives that could increase the uptake of electric vehicles to 1.3 million and achieve the greenhouse gas reductions forecasted for this area,” Lysyk wrote in the report.

The auditor general also noted that some decisions by other ministries are inconsistent with the province’s climate change goals, such as the provincial transit agency Metrolinx removing electric vehicle charging stations; dropping electric vehicle charging requirements for workplaces and new homes; expanding natural gas infrastructure; and adopting a growth plan that allow development to expand, which would require people to drive more.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner called the government’s environment plan “made to fail.”

“The Ford government is not only wasting our tax dollars sabotaging the federal government’s climate plan, the premier’s policies are actually sabotaging his own so-called climate plan,” he said.

“They have the audacity to rely on electric vehicles to meet a big chunk of their emission targets while cutting all the programs that support electric vehicles.”

Sarah Buchanan with the advocacy group Environmental Defence said there is no credible evidence that the government’s plan will reduce emissions enough by the 2030 target.

“The current Ontario government isn’t just a dragging their heels when it comes to fighting climate change, they are blocking real action,” she said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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