Editor’s Note: Scott MacDonald is a senior adviser with the Ontario Science Table, an organization that educates people on science policy and governance, policy recommendations and guidelines. He has researched and analyzed issues around climate change, including the COVID-19 science review and Canada’s mandate on climate change. He also sits on the boards of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
Municipalities across the country are taking steps to implement measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions – including Montreal’s interim COVID-19 pilot project, but that doesn’t mean that provincial governments are. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is set to release the report from his COVID-19 science review soon. While we expect him to keep an honest account of the review, what are the major COVID-19 risks and what’s next?
The first risk is that COVID-19 will take focus away from policy work that should really matter: Canada’s federal-provincial climate action.
The federal-provincial dialogue on climate change takes place every year and is instrumental in charting Canada’s course toward a climate-ready economy and towards a zero-carbon future. Canada should be committed to that process.
As Ontario’s premier, Ford has talked a good game about listening and collaborating with Ottawa, but with a fierce disregard for legacy issues, he’s put the federal Liberals out of their comfort zone. Instead of discussing climate change and the CCS fund, Ford can now face calls for even stronger measures like pricing carbon to stay on track toward meeting the 2019 Paris climate targets.
Another risk is that COVID-19 will lead to delay of better measures and approaches like the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Initiative, a federal-provincial program aimed at getting CCS into use by 2020 to reduce Canada’s emissions.
Climate scientists haven’t kept up with the IPCC’s recent calls to increase renewable energy options
It’s not enough for Ford to reassure provinces that the federal government will stand up for their stateside interests with respect to COVID-19. Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have all announced commitments to CCS, as did B.C. during its last election. The entire world is now gathering together in countries around the world to discuss green technologies, particularly in solar and wind.
We’ve seen that provinces and provinces can influence climate change policy, but there’s also political pressure to slow things down.
One example of this pressure, from not just industry, is that climate scientists haven’t kept up with the IPCC’s recent calls to increase renewable energy options. For the IPCC, renewable energy deployment (including renewables such as wind and solar power) is considered “positive emissions.” If we reduce them too much, we run the risk of carbon concentrations growing high enough to upset the balance of the climate.
It’s not just about CCS. No fossil fuel is safe from the kind of constriction and limits that will be applied if we do the right job tackling climate change. The best example of this is that U.S. President Donald Trump recently announced he was exiting the Paris Climate Accord. Leaving left the United States at odds with the continent as a whole.
So now, as Ford prepares to release his COVID-19 review, there’s a legitimate debate to be had about what climate action means. It’s about policy. Politicians make decisions on advice from their people, including their science advisors. Ford has already placed himself at odds with his science advisors, both the Canadian Council for Science and the Ontario Council of Environment and Sustainable Development. He’s heading down a path that leaves his science advisors with little recourse but to navigate his government waters through subtle sleight of hand.
The answer to COVID-19 isn’t simply to “stick to our guns,” but to work to understand what will work, instead of struggling to throw axes and trying to deflect towards other vessels like the IPCC, the CCS Initiative or the Ontario Council of Environment and Sustainable Development.
This gives us hope for climate action in Ontario, but Ford needs to do more than keep his promises to his citizens and his science advisors. He needs to show that he really understands the issues and comes to what will actually help us deal with global warming.
Scott MacDonald is a senior adviser with the Ontario Science Table, an organization that educates people on