Sorry Coal, Natural Gas Is Here To Stay (by A. Koundourakis)

In my last blog post, I wrote how the Globe and Mail got their hands on a 57-page document outlining Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy, titled “Cabinet Confidential.” The goal was to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. In that document, it outlined how Ontario would wean residents off of fossil fuel powered homes by 2030 (natural gas included). Taken directly from the article; “New building code rules will require all homes and small buildings built in 2030 or later to be heated without using fossil fuels, such as natural gas. This will be expanded to all buildings before 2050. Other building code changes will require major renovations to include energy-efficiency measures. All homes will also have to undergo an energy-efficiency audit before they are sold.” The code change costs do not include the $1.32 billion in incentives to phase out natural gas heating in homes. All one needs to do is type “Wynne Natural Gas” on Google and you would get page upon page of newspaper article backlash on the subject.

wynne

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne insists that the province will not ban the use of natural gas to heat homes as part of its climate change action plan. (CODIE MCLACHLAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS) Watch video here. 

However, last week the Liberals released a statement during a joint press conference with Rachel Notley and Enbridge CEO Al Monaco stating that “We are not banning natural gas and have no intention to force people off natural gas.” She stresses that they will work to extend natural gas lines to rural and northern communities in order to promote economic development. Her intention is completely opposite of what was reported by the Globe and Mail’s article last week.

This retraction or falsely reported climate change strategy will reduce the greenhouse gas reduction estimate, while also largely reducing Ontarian debt which would have resulted in the policy’s implementation. I wonder what new policy the Liberals will implement to counter the omittance of the natural gas switch and how it will affect Ontarians.

At the press conference, Al Monaco had warned the public that an investment to switch households from natural gas to electricity would cost Ontario $200 billion – or about $4,500 per Ontarian based on average use. It would also triple electricity costs, which currently are among the highest in the country. So much for the $7 billion climate change plan from last week, but hey, what’s an extra $193 billion underestimate? (Not particularly related to the story, but I was driving home from work this afternoon and a commercial came on the radio advertising Ontario bonds. Planning something big, Premier Wynne?)

To give you an idea of how much electricity prices are, I have provided a table below showing price by major Canadian city:

electricity

Average Price of Electricity by Major Canadian City (Hydro Quebec)

What is most peculiar about the statement by Premier Wynne is that she said “I want to directly address the critics who jumped on last week’s false media reports suggesting that our plan will ban natural gas in Ontario. That is not true.” However, the Climate Change strategy draft released by the Globe and Mail contains a preamble signed by Premier Wynne. I do also want to stress that the plan was still to be fine-tuned so they are well within their right to withdraw or add policies, however a $200 billion price tag is a gross miscalculation. The Oakville coal plant scandal comes to mind again.

The relevance of this press release by Premiers Notley and Wynne stretches farther than climate change and financial calculation. In my last post I also mentioned how there were tensions within the party. Assuming this plan was released by disagreeing party members, is this something that they wanted us to see?

 

Source:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/wynne-steps-back-from-plan-to-phase-out-natural-gas-in-ontario/article30182423/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/news-video/video-ontario-premier-says-natural-gas-wont-be-banned/article30179853/#video0id30179853

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Cabinet Confidential: Ontario Climate Change (Koundourakis)

Who wouldn’t be interested in nabbing a free product before the official release date? The Provincial government of Ontario is on the cusp of releasing a bold $7 billion plan to combat climate change, and The Globe and Mail got their hands on a leaked version of it. A 57 page document, labelled “Cabinet Confidential”, contains 80 different policies. Each policy was grouped into 32 action plans, with varying price tags and an estimation to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This partially released document is still under review, however, and will be fine-tuned, according to the National Post, by June 9.

Ontario plans to phase out natural gas for heating and, provide incentives to retrofit buildings. Also, it will offer rebates to drivers who buy electric vehicles. Gasoline sold in Ontario will contain less carbon than current gasoline on the market. It will introduce improved building code regulations which will require all new homes by 2030 to be heated with electricity or geothermal energy systems.

Financially, the plan includes:

  • $3.8 billion for grants, rebates and subsidies to retrofit buildings and move them to geothermal, solar and other forms of electric heat. This plan will be administered by a Green Bank that will provide financing for solar and geothermal projects.
  • $285 million for electric vehicle incentives. This will include rebates of up $14,000 for every electric vehicle purchased; a $1,000 rebate to install home charging platforms; the complete removal of the HST off electric vehicle sales; a subsidy program for low income households to exchange their older models for new electric vehicles.
  • $176 million in incentives for fuel retailers to sell biodiesel and offer 85% ethanol blended gasoline, with further incentives for natural gas to contain more renewable content.
  • $280 million in subsidies for school boards who buy electric buses and trucking companies to switch to lower carbon trucks.
  • $354 million for funding for the GO rail network.
  • $200 million to build more cycling infrastructure at GO stations.
  • $375 million for R&D into new clean technologies. Hitting closer to home in this regard is a $140 million plan to develop a Global Centre for Low-Carbon Mobility at an Ontario university or college to develop electric and low carbon emitting machines.
  • $1.2 billion to help factories and industries to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
  • $174 million to make governments carbon neutral. This means that governments will produce a net zero carbon emission.

The plans that will result in the largest emission cut will occur in 2020. The estimated greenhouse gas emission cuts are as followed:

  • When buildings will move towards more energy efficient code, is an estimated three million ton reduction;
  • When industries become more fuel efficient, is an estimated 2.5 million ton reduction;
  • A lower carbon fuel standard will result in an estimated 2 million ton reduction;
  • The renewable content requirement for natural gas will result in an estimated 1 million ton reduction;
  • Transferring buses and trucks to LNG and electricity will result in an estimated 400,000 ton reduction.

Compared to other plans from other provinces, such as Alberta’s which provides a more top-down approach, Ontario’s policy provides much more detail. The levels of granularity in the plan are much stricter in terms of how the plan must be administered. In order to be given any of the incentives or subsidies, there is a rigorous and detailed outline that must be followed.

Once completed and combined with the upcoming cap and trade, the action plans are expected to cut Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Greenhouse gas emissions will drop to 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, 37% by 2030 (which is a more ambitious plan than our current National plan laid out by the Conservatives) and finally, 80% by 2050.

Considering the title of the document is “Cabinet Confidential”, it stands to reason that the Globe and Mail managed to get their hands on a leaked copy of the list of policies. This leak may reveal that there is dirty laundry within the Liberal Party. The report was drafted by Environment Minister, Glen Murray, who neglected the advice and consultation of other cabinet ministers. Tensions were further raised, at the Economic Club, when Minister Murray scolded the auto industry for not playing a more prominent role in combating climate change. The minister’s lack of cooperation has led to the tensions within the party subsequently leading to the leak, possibly by the neglected cabinet members. It should be interesting to see future policies where more cooperation between the party members will be required, especially if these tensions persist. Could this be leading to an implosion of the Liberal Party of Canada?

A particular interest of mine is economic policy. Yet, environmental policy will more affect my future quality of life, not only as a citizen of Canada, but as a human being. Ontario already sustains one of the largest sub-national debts in the world, yet we are willing to invest more money in what looks like subsidies and incentives for consumers to become more eco-conscious. I hope this $7 billion investment will result in a greener future for myself and future Canadian generations. In my opinion, good economic policy in the future will get us out of this debt, but current environmental policy will provide us a world to do so. Premier Wynne wrote that “It’s a transformation that will forever change how we love, work, play and move”. In this case, Premier Wynne is correct; this will affect the lives of Canadians and to an obvious extent, the world.

Sources:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-to-spend-7-billion-in-sweeping-climate-change-plan/article30029081/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontarios-climate-change-action-plan-heres-how-the-spending-breaks-down/article30029123/%3bjsessionid=2TypX5QWyTm34Xpm13jy94CRmMmFrzQlQ8vzJLJNyvJDkGRMyns8!-619412960/?ts=160516051842&ord=1

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/kathleen-wynne-wont-commit-to-release-climate-change-plan-before-legislature-rises

 

Forest Fires & Climate Change: Burning Scientific Truths (Khan)

 

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news recently will have undoubtedly heard about the forest fire in Fort McMurry, Alberta. According to the CBC, the fire is estimated to have burned over 500,000 hectares and is still burning in some areas. The fire has also prompted the evacuation of close to 80,000 people in the area. There has been a major outpouring of support from around the country, and many people have been amazed by the sheer size of the blaze.

fire-mapPerimeter of the Fort McMurry fire as of May 24th 2016 (Source: Cbc)

This incident might make you wonder: what causes forest fires, and are they becoming more frequent?

Forest fires are like any other fire, in that they are dependent on three components to survive: a fuel source, a heat source or spark, and oxygen. According to Natural Resources Canada, there are thousands of fires across Canada each year, but only 3% of these grow to over 200 hectares in size. In the case of larger fires like the one in Alberta, conditions such as high temperatures and lack of precipitation have a huge impact on the spread of the fire. According to the Global and Mail, it is a combination of these factors that have allowed the Alberta fire to survive. Another important factor in the growth of fires is the direction and speed of the wind. Winds can often hamper efforts to stop a forest fire.

Once a fire has started, it is important to limit its growth and minimize the damage. One way to fight a forest fire is to douse the fire with ammonium polyphosphate. This complicated sounding chemical functions by creating a layer over flammable material and insulating it from the high temperatures of a fire. This lowers the temperature that the fire burns at, and reduces the fuel available for the fire to burn. In addition to this method, firefighters in Alberta are creating firebreaks to stop the forest fire. A firebreak is a clearing in combustible materials in the path of a fire.

plane

A plane dousing a California Wildfire with ammonium polyphosphate (Elaine Thompson/AP)

A fact to keep in mind is that Canada has almost 10% of the world’s forest areas so forest fires are a common issue. Forest fires are often thought of as natural calamities when they impact humans, but that does not mean that they are necessarily bad for the environment. Fires clear out old trees and bushes and allow for new trees to grow out. In fact, Natural Resources Canada often sets a number of prescribed fires each year to allow healthy growth of forest ecosystems.

So are forest fires becoming more frequent? And is it a result of climate change?

Not exactly, fires today are not more frequent, but frequently more destructive. According to Natural Resource Canada, in 2014 the number of fires across Canada were down, but the area burned by fires across Canada had increased. Kerry Anderson, a fire research assistant with Natural Resource Canada says that more data needs to be collected and analyzed before a definitive link can be made between climate change and forest fires. What is known however is that climate change contributes to forest fires in two important ways:

  • Climate change has caused an increase in global temperatures and has disrupted the usual precipitation patterns. This has lead to increasingly hot and dry conditions which are more conducive to forest fires.

The government and local communities need to do more to protect citizens from the danger of forest fires. A FireSmart plan developed in response to the Slave Lake fire in 2011 has not been fully implemented by communities across Alberta; this plan needs to be reviewed to plan for future incidents. We are today in an era where climate change is finally being recognized as an important issue, but we need to work on adapting to a changing world in addition to trying to reduce emissions and limit climate change.

Blogs worth Blogging About

I asked my student bloggers to come up with a list of their 5 favourite blogs about the environment. If you are looking for something to read this weekend, here is the list:

Top 5: Environmental Policy (according to Koundourakis)

Canadian Environmental Law Association
http://www.cela.ca/blog

Pembina Institute
http://www.pembina.org/blog/758

Policy Options
http://policyoptions.irpp.org/category/environment/

CCPA
https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/blogs

David Suzuki
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/

Top 5: Environmental Science (according to Khan)

Dot Earth– This blog is written by Andrew Rivkin in the New York Times and focuses on US issues, but it does contain information regarding global Climate Change. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/

Canadian ERA Perspectives– This is a blog dealing with developments in environmental, regulatory, and aboriginal law in Canada.  http://www.canadianeraperspectives.com/

Mississauga Green Living Blog- This is a blog managed by the Environmental Management Section of the City of Mississauga.https://mississaugalivinggreen.wordpress.com/

Royal Society of Biology Blog– This is a science based blog run by the Royal Society of Biology in the UK. http://blog.rsb.org.uk/

Science Borealis Blog– This is a Canadian Blog that deals with a wide variety of topics within science. http://scienceborealis.ca/about-us/

Students Taking Over the Blog

This summer two outstanding University of Toronto Mississauga students will be writing blog posts on environmental science and policy in Canada. Let me introduce you to:

M.Umar Khan – Environmental Science blogger

Umar

Khan is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree at UTM. He is completing a specialist degree in Comparative Physiology with a minor in Political Science. He has a self-purported keen interest in biology and science policy in Canada. In his free time, he likes to read and keep up to date with the current events happening in Canada and around the world.

 

 

 

Anthony Koundourakis – Environmental Policy blogger

Anthony

 

 

Koundourakis is pursuing an economics and political science degree at UTM.  He is also an intern for a full service financial brokerage house in Mississauga, and to pay the bills he is a bartender.  In his free time, he keeps up with current events in Canadian and American news. He is known for making random conversations
with complete strangers because he “believe that each person has interesting stories and adventures to tell.”

 

 

Both Khan and Koundourakis took my ENV/POL250Y course in the 2015-2016 academic year. The course, based around the book The Canadian Environment in Political Context, provided them with an introduction to some basic concepts and themes in Canadian environmental science and politics. Among the highest achievers in the course, these students were selected to write weekly or semi-weekly posts on pressing environmental issues in Canada. So stay tuned for their blog posts! In order to keep it all straight, the author’s name (Olive, Khan, or Koundourakis) will now appear in the title of each post.

 

Endangered Species Legislation Across the Provinces

In the book, there is a list of provincial endangered species policies on page 108 (table 5.1). It has come to me attention over the past two weeks that the table is woefully inadequate. I am presently doing research on a paper about the 20th Anniversary of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada (more on that this summer). With the help of my graduate student research assistant (Katrina Jansen), I have created an updated and more complete list of all provincial laws that include provisions for endangered species.

Perhaps most important thing is to note the inclusion of earlier acts and later acts. Manitoba passed new and innovative legislation in 2014. I would explore it in more depth in a future blog post. And British Columbia is finally (finally!) considering updating its 1996 legislation. Whoo-hoo! That bill has not yet passed so stay tuned.

Year Province Act
1971 Ontario Endangered Species Act
1973 New Brunswick Endangered Species Act
1984 Alberta Wildlife Act
1989 Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species
1990 Manitoba Endangered Species Act
1993 Manitoba Endangered Species Act – Amendments
1996 New Brunswick Endangered Species Act
1996 Alberta Wildlife Act – Amendments
1996 British Columbia Wildlife Act
1997 Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species – Amendments
1998 Nova Scotia Act Respecting Endangered Species
1998 Saskatchewan Wildlife Act
1998 Prince Edward Island Wildlife Conservation Act
1999 British Columbia Wildlife Act – Amendments
2000 Alberta Wildlife Act – Amendments
2001 Newfoundland Endangered Species Act
2002 Yukon Wildlife Act
2003 Nunavut Wildlife Act
2004 Newfoundland Endangered Species Act
2007 Ontario Endangered Species Act
2009 Northwest Territories Species at Risk Act

 

2010 Nova Scotia Act Respecting Endangered Species – Amendments
2012 New Brunswick Species at Risk Act
2014 Manitoba Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act
2016 British Columbia Sustainable Wildlife Management Act – in ProgressWildlife

Progressive Conservative Party takes Manitoba

Trump and Clinton… it is all we here about these days. Indeed, their story is the lead on the Globe and Mail this morning. But Manitoba also had an election yesterday. The Progressive Conservative party, led by Brian Pallister, won a majority government. An impressive majority government. The party won 40 of the province’s 57 seats… and took 53.4% of the popular vote.

The NDP have been in power in Manitoba since 1999 – and historically have been very strong in the province. But last night, the NDP won only 14 seats and 25.6% of the popular vote. Their leader, Greg Selinger, resigned immediately after the votes here counted. The Liberal Party won the remaining 3 seats with 14.2% of the vote.

What was this election about? Taxes. (As most elections are!) Salinger said he would not raise the HST (harmonized sales tax) in the province… and then he did. Voters did not like that. Pallister has promised to decrease the tax by the 1% that it was raised. He better come through. He has also promised to join the New West Partnership trade agreement with BC, AB, and SK.

I am surprised to even write this, but as of April 2016 ALBERTA is the only province to have a NDP government.

 

Metis are Indians

Chapter 9 in The Canadian Environment in Political Context explains Indigenous politics in Canada. Standard in similar texts, the umbrella term “Aboriginal” is broken down into Inuit, First Nations, and Metis. The book also provides a chart of important Supreme Court cases that impact Aboriginal-Canada environmental relations. There is a new entry:

Daniels v Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development). The short story is that the court determined that “Metis” are Indians in Canada – thereby giving them (potential) land and resource rights. As Indians, Metis are the responsibility of the Federal government.

In this case, the court was asked to rule on 3 things:

  1. that Metis and non-status Indians are “Indians” as defined under the 1867 Constitution
  2. that the federal government has a fiduciary duty to Metis and non-status Indians
  3. that Metis and non-status Indians have the right to be consulted and negotiation with (in terms of things like land, environmental rights, etc.)

Initially, the trial judge (Federal Court of Appeals) granted (1) but used the R. v Powley (2003) case to benchmark which non-status Indians are included.  The court declined (2) and (3).

In October 2015 the Supreme Court heard this case and on April 14th made a ruling. It is now determined that Metis and non-status Indians are Indians under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

What does this mean in practice? It means that roughly 200,000 Metis and 400,000 non-status Aboriginal peoples (those not affiliated with a reserve) will become “Indians” and receive the benefits flowing from such status. Exactly who is Metis or non-status is to be determined on a “case-by-case” basis in the future. So, the court left it undefined.

What did the Supreme Court say about (2) and (3) – they rejected them BUT on the basis that confirming them would be “restating settled law.” This means that once you establish (1) then those Metis and non-status Indians would already have (2) and (3) by virtue of having (1).  Also worth noting, the Supreme Court did not rule that the Powley criteria is the basis for “Metis” – instead it will be determined “case-by-case.”

So this is a big victory for Metis and non-status Indians in Canada. What does it mean for the environment?  It is a bit too soon to tell. But the implication would be that Metis and non-status Indians may have the ability to make some land claims and resource claims. It should also mean that these groups will be involved in consultations on natural resource exploitation and exploitation (like oil and gas out West). Essentially, this case extended the scope of potential actors in the policy process.

For more information, see the CBC and APTN.

 

Status Quo in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan had a provincial election on April 4, 2016. However, there is really no update to the book – as the status quo resigned supreme. Indeed, the election was dubbed “the ground-hog day election.”

The Sask Party (the conservative or centre-right party) won 51 seats while the NDP (the centre-left party) won 10 seats. There are a total of 61 seats in the SK Legislative Assembly.  In terms of popular vote, the SP received 62.5% and the NDP won 30.3% (leaving 3.6% to the other parties, such as the Liberal Party and the Western Independence Party).

Prior to this election, the SP had 49 seats and the NDP help 9 seats. Thus, the NDP did gain a seat, but in a major setback the party leader, Cam Broten, lost his seat in Saskatoon. It is unclear as to whether or not he will remain party leader.

The Sask Party is a relatively new party – founded in only 1997. It gained major success under Brad Wall’s leadership in 2007. In the 2007 election the party won 38/58 seats and in 2011 it won 49/58 seats.  Last night we saw more of the same. And we can expect more of the same in the next five years. This is not good news for the environment – especially not good for any prospects of a national climate strategy in Canada.

2016 Budget for the Environment

7 billion. That is a big number. The Liberal government is planning on spending more than that on the environment in the next two years. Indeed, the CBC reported that the Liberal’s kept with their election promises on the environment.

So how does that shake down by the numbers?

$2.5 billion = public transit

$1.8 billion = green infrastructure, including (much needed) repair and upgrade to water systems

$1.7 billion = climate mitigation and environmental protection

$574 million = energy and water efficiency upgrades

$401 million = clean teach development spending

These are large numbers and can be sliced and diced in different directions. For example, it is actually $11.9 billion being spent on infrastructure and some of that is related to environmental protection and upgrades. I like this graphic from the Globe and Mail:

 

infrastructure

As you can see, in the infrastructure spending there is money for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. That is clearly environmental spending. Then there are categories of an overlapping nature – water infrastructure. That is not exactly about protecting water quality for the sake of the environment. No, it is really about public health. But, hey, that’s okay – a win, a win. Similarly, “public transit” isn’t necessarily about the environment. It is really about getting people where they need to go to keep the economy and society functioning. But better public transportation means less carbon emissions. So, hey, that’s okay – a win, a win.

This all sounds good, right? Why is the David Suzuki Foundation not impressed? Over concern that “the level of investment doesn’t match the urgency of the environmental challenges Canada faces.” The DSF was hoping for more news on carbon pricing, alternative energy investments, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. (Me too).

To that end, the Minister of Finance, Hon. Morneau, also announced an additional $1 billion in the next budget (2018-2019) to establish a “low carbon economy fund” that will give funding to provinces/territories that sign onto a Canadian climate agreement. Sounds like a bribe. I like it. It is also what we call “federal leadership.”

 

I am waiting for other environmental groups and the Pembina Institute to release their comments and analysis on the budget. We need some number crunchers to think this through from an environmental prospective. I will keep you posted on further details!