Most of Ontario’s GHG emissions – 60 percent – originate in cities, especially our most populous ones. Do the math: the province cannot reach its climate protection targets unless cities do some heavy lifting. We know it’s possible, as Toronto and other leading cities are proving. As the Province of Ontario designs its Climate Action Strategy, it needs to focus on enabling and supporting local leaders, citizens and businesses to develop and implement a range of urban emission reduction strategies. There are three essential elements to consider.
- Take direct action that reduces emissions in cities. This starts with getting the cap and trade policy right, as we’ve outlined in our previous blogs on a principled approach to carbon pricing – part one and part two. We must send a clear price signal throughout the economy to help build a sound business case for making low-carbon choices, especially in the buildings and transportation sectors which account for 90 percent of all urban emissions. And speaking of transportation, the Province needs to generate enough new revenue to build adequate public transportation systems. Other key provincial actions include laws and policies that support compact development in cities; modernizing the rules which govern energy utilities so they can champion energy efficiency and adapt their systems to optimize the use of multiple, distributed energy sources; and codes and standards to dramatically improve energy performance of equipment and new construction.
- Help cities accelerate local emission reductions. Ontario can accelerate electrification of transportation through incentives for electric vehicle purchase and by supporting charging infrastructure development. It can also speed up retrofits of existing buildings by requiring regular reporting and benchmarking of energy use. Programs that leverage private investment in climate action are also powerful enablers of local action – for instance, providing credit enhancement for low-carbon investments and offering favourable tax treatments for purchases of energy conservation and renewable energy equipment and measures.
- Work collaboratively with city and community leaders to build effective carbon reduction strategies, engagement and action.
We can only solve the complex challenge of climate change by working in new, innovative, collaborative ways. That can start by building capacity for inter-departmental co-ordination to ensure we are looking at things with an eye to the full system of change needed, rather than disjointed, one-off measures. Just ensuring that data collected by public agencies is open and available for analysis and decision-support will go a long way, and consideration should be given to resourcing a new agency that could independently assess local climate reduction progress and plans and develop standard “off the shelf” low-carbon programs for delivery in cities, such as local improvement charge (LIC) financing programs, or local transportation demand management (TDM) initiatives.
The cap and trade policy is a welcome and important cornerstone for climate action in Ontario, but this alone but does not a climate strategy make. A robust suite of actions, designed and applied in concert, are needed to achieve established climate protection goals. The extent to which urban emissions are tackled and cities are supported and engaged will be a measure and predictor of the Ontario strategy’s ultimate success.