Ontario’s new climate strategy looks to the future, ignores problems of today

 

Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, flanked by Cabinet colleagues at Climate Change Action Plan announcement at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto.

Today, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) joined Premier Wynne and members of Cabinet for the unveiling of Ontario’s new Climate Change Action Plan.

Anchored and financed by Ontario’s recently finalized cap-and-trade emissions program, the Plan outlines the key actions the government plans to take to combat climate change. The Action Plan calls for government spending of $5.9 to $8.3 billion over the next five years, focused primarily on transition assistance and incentives for households and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, divert waste, and conserve energy.

Beyond the more newsworthy items such as electric vehicle (EV) sales incentives, charging infrastructure, home energy clean-tech rebates, and a “cash for clunkers” automotive program, the plan features some significant successes and shortfalls that deserve greater attention.

Positive signs of change:

New organizations

The Climate Change Action Plan brings with it the establishment of two wholly new organizations: the Green Bank and the Global Centre for Low Carbon Mobility. Earmarked to receive approximately $1-billion and $120-million respectively, both are government initiatives that aim to encourage and enable business and government transition to a low carbon economy, and to realize best practices and cost reductions in achieving this objective.

The Green Bank is meant to act as an aggregator and central access hub for financing services, service providers, and green technology and retrofits deployment services to connect with household, business, and industry clients.

The Global Centre for Low Carbon Mobility will partner with a to-be-announced post-secondary institution and will be tasked with advising government on matters of green transportation, research and development, and clean-tech and manufacturing.

Knowledge and innovation appear to be core drivers behind the government’s planning, supplementing the creation of these organizations with additional commitment to dedicate funding to the low carbon clean technology sector to create and fuel existing accelerators and clusters.

Transportation

The Plan offers a wide array of transportation funding commitments. Between $355 and $675 million will go to Regional Express Rail Development, expediting the electrification and expansion of rail services with the hopes of reducing the number of single-drivers on Ontario roadways.

Fleet vehicles, such as truck and buses, have been allocated approximately $250million for efficiency upgrades and low emissions fueling stations—using ethanol and liquefied natural gas. More generally, the government has also committed $115-175 million to enhancing the availability and uptake of low carbon fuels.

Community infrastructure

With respect to our communities, the Action Plan directs a number of investments, spanning social housing and apartment building retrofit programs ($680-$900M), energy efficiency upgrades to schools and hospitals ($400-$800M), net-zero new home rebates ($180-$220M), and electricity affordability initiatives ($1-$1.32B).

Shortfalls and suggestions:

Although these are welcomed investments, Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan illustrates that the government views climate change as a forthcoming issue – a problem we can pre-empt and address by curbing emissions. Unfortunately, climate change mitigation isn’t the only problem. Ontario also needs to address existing infrastructural deficiencies in urban areas. With this in mind, Ontario’s Action Plan fails to prioritize or fund critical resiliency efforts that are necessary to combat risks that already threaten public heath, the economy, and the overall success of our communities.

“We’re encouraged by some of the forward-looking features of the government’s official Climate Change Action Plan,” said OSPE Chief Executive Officer Sandro Perruzza. “But we are still disappointed with Ontario’s overall approach on the climate file—including its lack of consideration for immediate issues.”

“We’ve met with government officials, we’ve analyzed the data and provided reports, we’ve repeatedly asked to be included – and now we’re fed up. By not engaging with engineers the government has ignored critical issues around climate change mitigation, such as necessary investments in waste water systems to prevent catastrophic flooding in the GTHA and the ecological degradation of our Great Lakes.”

Municipal waste water treatment

The treatment of Ontario’s waste water is a clear example of this problem. Flowing through our sewer systems, waste water is meant to reach our water treatment facilities to be filtered and purified before being reintroduced to the watermain for residential and commercial use. Unfortunately, these networks of underground waste water pipelines are in a state of widespread disrepair and design obsolescence, whereby heavy rain and storm systems actually overload and flow sewage into flood water—including direct discharge—meaning GTHA sewage is being dumped into Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes. As climate change causes increasingly frequent and severe storms, this silent disaster and the potential risk of catastrophic flooding will only become more grave.

Here, an ongoing lack of public consultation has limited the government’s awareness of the solutions available to address these key consequences of climate challenge. The Climate Change Action Plan only directs new, unfunded responsibilities to municipalities and overlooks critical infrastructure gaps—such as waste water systems—which are areas of concern that are having an immediate and deleterious impact on the environment. It is clear that municipalities are in dire need of funding to replace deteriorating pipes to prevent waste water from turning into flood water.

Overall, although the plan suggests that Ontario’s waste sector should leverage different practices and technologies to capture greenhouse gas pollution that would otherwise be released into the air, there is no direct mention of water systems in the document—a tremendous oversight.

If the Climate Change Action Plan and cap-and-trade program are meant to form the backbone of Ontario’s strategy to cut greenhouse gas pollution to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050, the government must appropriate adequate funding to municipalities and expand its scope to view issues such as water and waste water systems as being a key feature of this plan.

 

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. mike mccartney

    Wynne and her compatriots have lost any credibility a long time ago. for OSPE to allow her crackpot ideas to be promulgated is shameful.

    1. STAFF

      Hi Mike, thanks for sharing your comment. The purpose of the blog post is not to promote any one person or party’s ideas. Our aim is simply to provide our readers with an update on the recent developments regarding the Climate Change Action Plan and to share our concerns and suggestions in order to foster discussion online and to drive informed change on behalf of all of Ontario’s engineers. If you’d like to share any recommendations with regards to the Climate Change Action Plan, please feel free to email us at advocacy@ospe.on.ca.

  2. Robert Muir

    Thank you for drawing attention to climate strategy deficiencies. It would be worth noting that as it relates to extreme rainfall, official Engineering Climate Datasets (version 2.3) do not support the statement “the symptoms of climate change are already upon us”. In fact in southern Ontario, long term climate stations (the statistically reliable ones with less sample skew bias), show more statistically significant decreasing rainfall intensity trends than increasing ones – more than double in fact. And derived extreme value statistics based on this observed data are also decreasing, as engineers would expect. The Toronto 100-year rainfall intensities from Environment and Climate Change Canada have dropped over 5% since the 1990 datasets were released. Even with the 2013 event at the Pearson Airport station, its 5, minute, 6 hour, 12 hour and 24 hour duration trends are downward (i.e., less severe rainfall since the 1940’s). Seven Environment Canada scientists published similar Canada-wide results in 2014 in Atmosphere-Ocean and concluded there was “no detectable trend signal” in short term rainfall intensities that drive urban flooding. Details are here:

    http://www.slideshare.net/RobertMuir3/storm-intensity-not-increasing-factual-review-of-engineering-datasets

    Instead of data, the Ontario government has literally given us “Connecting the Dots on Climate Data”, inappropriately treating an important file with kindergarten-level policies and data – infographics in lieu of rationale thought, or evidence-based policies. Prescription and prediction instead of careful perspective. Despite the data – all publicly available on Environment Canada’s ftp site – media and the insurance industry have relentlessly propagated infographics and data-poor communications surrounding extreme weather, and have unfortunately supported Ontario’s uninformed policies.

    I have written a letter to the Minister Murray as he has apparently conflated climate and weather, and ignored engineering sciences of hydrology and hydraulics, in favour of meteorology, to address flooding risks in Ontario :
    http://www.cityfloodmap.com/2015/08/letter-to-ontario-minister-of.html

    As explained in that letter, Ontario needs good ol’ fashioned Design Standard Adaptation to address existing deficiencies in urban areas – not Climate Change mitigation. Engineers are well-positioned to take that on, but are not at the table – all the policy-influencing seats are filled by climate modellers. Focusing on eingeering-based solutions would be a data-driven, evidence-based approach to improving our cities and infrastructure in a cost-effective, results-focused manner. Here is the letter which generated only a ‘form letter’ response:
    http://www.cityfloodmap.com/2016/04/design-standard-adaptation-vs-climate.html

    As OPSE has pointed out in its June 1, 2016 letter to Premier Wynne, there is a “a lack of meaningful consultation and expert analysis” in Ontario’s policies. As you have pointed out, they have rushed to solutions instead of studying the problem first. This is commonplace in society now as a Nobel laureate has pointed out:

    “People are not accustomed to thinking hard, and are often content to trust a plausible judgment that comes to mind.” Daniel Kahneman, American Economic Review 93 (5) December 2003, p. 1450

    Ontario must engage engineers and follow the methodical, effective, ‘slow thinking’ System 2 approach Kahneman has defined – only then will we move to effective solutions to today’s complex problems, including climate change and flooding:

    http://www.cityfloodmap.com/2015/11/thinking-fast-and-slow-about-extreme.html

    Thank you again OSPE for exposing the significant issues with Ontario’s approach to setting climate and energy policy. Please also consider the facts on extreme rainfall trends and immediate issues related to land use planning and municipal infrastructure – detailed analysis has shown that those are more critical to challenges facing Ontario cities than refuted extreme weather trends.

    Robert Muir, P.Eng.
    Toronto

    1. STAFF

      Hi Robert, thank you for taking the time to share your carefully considered comments. We have since qualified the statement within our blog post and we will take a closer look at the Engineering Climate Datasets and resources that you have shared. If you’d like to share any further recommendations with regards to the Climate Change Action Plan, please feel free to email us at advocacy@ospe.on.ca.

    2. Gene Balfour

      Agreed!

  3. Michael Monette

    Robert – very much agree that engineers must be policy generators and not just a step in the process of policy consultation. Thanks to your voice and other members of OSPE we’re taking that message out more strongly – engineers must be integral to policy generation so that fact-based decision making becomes the norm. There is so much good that comes from the application of sound engineering principles, use of life cycle costing and total environmentally impact assessment and simulation, and related economic modelling. Engineers cover the full range and in fact many of Ontario’s engineers are leaders in their various industries performing detailed business and economic analyses for their organizations. Time to apply the same to matters of public infrastructure, energy, environment, water, land, you name it, engineers must be leveraged. In turn engineers are a proud bunch and want to leave the world a better place for our children if not ourselves as we advance through the years.

    Call to action to engineers and all engineering graduates too – if you have areas of expertise contact the OSPE office and let us know where you can help? Of course be sure to join OSPE if you’re not a member yet to be part of a vital network the exists across all of Ontario. Rest assured our primary message is that engineers provide value, should be engaged, and properly compensated for their work. Many will thank you for any volunteer work you might provide. A little extra effort goes a long way to influencing the direction of our public officials. Hope to hear from you.

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