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Recently the Ontario government released it’s Climate Change Discussion Paper 2015. The report unveils the province’s current thinking on policy options to address climate change, and asks the public to weigh in on such controversial options as a carbon tax versus other possibilities like a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.

If ever there was a time for the public to participate in government, and to share its expertise through the public consultation process, it is now. Calling all economists, scientists, engineers, and industry leaders—the Ontario government needs your help to answer “critical” questions on how we can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so as to stave off what is predicted to be “irreversible damage” caused by global warming.

Minister Glen Murray’s opening message explains that there are a couple of critical numbers “that are vital for Ontarians to be aware of”: 4, the number of degrees in this century that the planet is on track to warm by, and 6, the number, in trillions of dollars of new economic growth that will result from moving to a low-carbon economy.

What does a 4-degree increase in temperature mean? According to Mr. Murray’s opening remarks, which are shared by many in the international community, it will mean catastrophe. “Severe weather events are already driving up insurance costs and severely damaging our infrastructure. Food security and costs will be an early problem as climate change impacts where our food is grown and affects our water supply.”

The province has set aggressive targets: 15% GHG emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% GHG emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. Anything less, the province says, will result in irreversible damage.

So what are the policy options? The report states:

“Our energy must come from lower emission sources and more renewables than it did in decades past. Our buildings and communities will increasingly need to be designed with their energy consumption and carbon emissions in mind. A broader range of competitive transportation options, including low carbon and zero emission choices, will be needed.”

The report is clear, however, that later this spring, “Ontario will confirm the market mechanisms or mechanisms that will be used to price carbon in Ontario.” It cites Lord Nicholas Stern, British economist and Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE), as stating that climate change is the “greatest market failure the world has seen” because it treats the atmosphere as a free dumping ground with no economic consequence, i.e., the old tragedy of the commons. According to the province, “A well-designed carbon pricing system is the most cost-effective approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

But, the province notes, there are two main approaches to carbon pricing: emissions trading and taxes. And that’s the point of this public consultation. Ontario wants to know, “what market mechanism or mechanisms will best achieve” Ontario’s goals for GHG emissions reduction?

The government also wants help with other questions, like:

What industry sectors may be best able to achieve voluntary emissions reductions by 2020 and by 2050, sufficient to achieve Ontario’s emissions targets?

What changes are needed to building codes and planning processes to ensure greater uptake with regard to geothermal, solar, wind, natural light, combined heat and power, community energy and other emerging technologies?

What can government do to encourage industry to further increase rates of innovation that would lead to improved productivity of all capital, including natural capital, in order to reduce emissions?

Does Ontario have the skill base to build and operate green buildings and communities and, if not, what more can be done to train the appropriate expertise?

The Discussion Paper will be posted to the EBR for a 45-day comment period until March 29, 2015. During and after that time, “focused discussions, town halls meetings and stakeholder forums will be organized to ensure that the themes and approach are considered from a number of stakeholder perspectives.” Following consultations, Ontario says it will prepare a long-term climate change strategy and develop a 5-year action plan for release.

As the report says, “Every Ontarian has a role to play.“

Speak up. Share your expertise.

As Mr. Murray says, “Climate Change is the critical issue of our time.”

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