The Government of Ontario’s recent Cap and Trade Cancellation Act eliminated the province's previous greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. It does require, however, that targets be established. The government’s draft Environment Plan includes a new 2030 GHG target that is 60% weaker than the one that was cancelled. According to the most recent emissions data available, Ontario produced 161 megatonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gas in 2016. The previous target required a reduction of 49 Mt by 2030. Under the draft plan, targeted emissions reductions are only 17 Mt by 2030; and the plan has no target for 2050.
The government defends this reduced ambition by highlighting that, while Ontario has already cut its GHG emissions since 2005, emissions have increased in the rest of Canada as a whole. It says we have already done our part. Ontario has done a lot and we should be proud. But the numbers present an incomplete picture of Ontario’s climate impact, and should not be an excuse to slow climate action.
Ontario’s greenhouse gas footprint
The ECO’s annual GHG progress reports include data on emissions produced in the province. The information comes from the federal government’s National Inventory Reports, which are compiled according to international standards. Emissions totals for Canada, as well as all provinces, are included in these reports.
Despite emissions reductions in most provinces, Canada’s overall record is poor, because emissions from oil-producing provinces are still increasing. These provinces do not consume all the oil they produce – they export most of it to meet demand. In fact, the majority of the oil we use in Ontario is produced in western Canada.
Ontario's emissions reductions to date are due to both past government policy, like shutting down coal-fired power plants, and geography. But when we use oil products like gasoline, we are increasing demand, and increasing emissions in places that have oil in the ground. We also increase emissions in the U.S. when we heat our homes with the natural gas produced there, and emissions increase in other countries when we buy consumer goods that create emissions during production.
If we took responsibility for the emissions that result from what we consume, instead of just the emissions we produce here, Ontario's environmental performance is not that impressive. One study that analyzed data from 1997 to 2009 found Ontario's 2009 GHG emissions would be 45% higher with the "consumption-based" accounting we have described here. That same study showed that while Ontario's reported emissions began to fall in 2000, consumption-based GHG emissions continued to increase until at least 2007.
Taking responsibility for consumption emissions
If Ontario really took responsibility for our climate pollution, the government’s policy decisions would be based on life cycle impacts – including those from production and consumption.
The ECO supports the proposal in the draft Environment Plan to consider climate change and greenhouse gas emissions when making government procurement decisions. But we are concerned the plan also supports natural-gas powered trucks, as the methane emissions from natural gas production, which would largely occur in the U.S., accelerate climate change.
The government must also continue to reduce provincial GHG emissions, which remain far higher than our fair share and are dangerously unsustainable. Ontario’s per person GHG emissions are almost twice as high as the global average, and much higher than those from other developed countries like Sweden and France.
The current production-based emissions reports are useful for tracking, but they place too much blame on oil-producing regions, and not enough on where the demand is coming from. The fact that Ontario doesn’t produce the oil we consume is a poor excuse to slow down our action on climate change.
Learn more about consumption based accounting in Chapter 3 from our 2016 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report, Facing Climate Change.