TORONTO – Ontario will conduct a multi-year study to assess the impacts of climate change, but critics say the work will take too long and likely won’t be complete before the next election.
Environment Minister Jeff Yurek announced the assessment, which will assess how climate change will affect the province’s economy, environment, infrastructure and communities, on Thursday.
The Progressive Conservative government put out a tender looking for bidders with expertise in impact assessments to work on the two-year project.
“We want evidence-based information that can be applied to local communities in order to make the changes needed to deal with climate change,” Yurek said.
The assessment comes after the government said a severe ice storm in April 2018 resulted in $190 million in property damage; less than a month later, a wind storm caused $380 million in damages.
The Tories have come under fire from environmentalists for scrapping Ontario’s cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, opposing the federal carbon tax and eliminating the province’s environmental commissioner.
But the government said its plan to set up a fund called the Ontario Carbon Trust, aiming to entice companies to invest in initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, would be effective.
Yurek said a company will be selected to conduct the assessment in late winter or early spring of 2020, and the government will not rush the work.
“It is going to take two years because it’s an in-depth study across the entire province,” he said. “There’s so many interconnected areas that have to be looked at to make sure we … prioritize how we should deal with climate change.”
Ontario’s former environmental commissioner, Dianne Saxe, called on the Ford government last year to continue the work the previous Liberal government had started on the impact assessment. On Thursday, she said she was glad the Tories accepted her recommendation, but said the government must also take action to address climate change.
“We do not need another report to know that Ontario badly needs to dramatically reduce our fossil fuel emissions, starting immediately, and that many actions of this government are increasing future damage and reducing our options,” she said.
Greenpeace Canada said the assessment could build on the work Saxe and other experts have done on the issue for years.
“Planning to deal with the impacts of climate change is important, but needs to be coupled with a plan to cut carbon pollution so we avoid impacts so severe that they are impossible to manage,” spokesman Keith Stewart said in a statement.
“Right now, the Ford government is asking a consultant how many mops they should buy to clean up the mess instead of calling a plumber to fix the leaky pipe. We’re still going to need mops, but stopping the leak is paramount.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government is not moving quickly enough on the assessment and it should be released well ahead of the next provincial election set for June 2022.
“We know the costs associated with climate change are escalating,” said Schreiner. “We should have an impact assessment as fast as possible – I would argue before the next election – so that each party has an opportunity to develop a platform in response to what the risks are.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the 2022 deadline for the report “wrong-headed” and said the province needs to address climate change now.
“We’re in a climate change emergency,” she said. “Granted, this government doesn’t seem to think so. They’re burying their heads in the sand…. For this government to simply kick this football downfield for a couple of years is completely unacceptable. We know they don’t have a plan.”
© 2019 The Canadian Press