Last week, Stantec in Waterloo hosted the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe, who presented a summary of Ontario’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report. With a full room of attendees, all eager to hear how we stand and how much progress has actually been accomplished, Dianne presented the facts with no beating around the bush. As the ‘watchdog’ of Ontario’s performance in environmental, energy and climate actions, she is responsible for producing 3 reports annually that describe the scientific evidence and the actions that have been taken thus far.
Everyone was holding their breath from the start of her presentation, as she summarised the state of Ontario’s climate into one simple question and answer: Is it as bad as we thought? It’s much worse. Dianne points out a few key milestones that have occurred that really lay out the state in of Ontario’s climate. Despite a worldwide agreement in 1992 that there was an urgent need to reduce fossil fuel emissions, we have reached the highest fossil fuel emissions occurrence recorded in 2016. Equally as worrying is our current permanent position of remaining over 400 ppm (parts per million) of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere. In order for the world to remain stable, the highest this value should be is 350 ppm – but this was surpassed since 1988.
The problem lies in the excess emissions such as carbon not having a neutral place to settle – in the oceans where they are stored they raise the temperatures and expand the waters. This causes sea level rising and a depletion of important members of the ecosystem such as plankton. As a result of the trapped heat in the water, storms have also become stronger and thus more destructive and dangerous. Weather patterns have shifted dramatically, making us wait impatiently for ‘normal’ weather to return. Dianne makes it clear that there is no return to ‘normal’ and we are moving further away from it.
The carbon remains in the atmosphere for years to come, so even if we were to stop utilising fossil fuels this very second, it would not affect the climate change we are currently experiencing
Dianne pointed out that in light of these challenging outcomes, Ontario is still taking important steps to alleviate the future use of fossil fuels. The closing of the coal power plants was a significant act, along with the new implementation of the cap and trade system in 2017. This system is linked with the existing programs in California and Quebec and the proceeds from this program will be invested into an account that will target further GHG reduction actions. The cap and trade program approach was deemed by Dianne’s reports as reasonable and well designed.
Dianne concluded her presentation by stating that the reduction of GHGs lays not only in the hand of the government, but in the citizens as well. She encouraged attendees to calculate their carbon footprint and make appropriate adjustments, as well as to approach their government officials and raise this issue for them to prioritize.
Overall, it was an eye-opening presentation that left many wondering what else they can do in order to contribute to a lesser carbon filled future in Ontario. To read the Climate Change Report in depth, click here; for a quick recap in the form of an executive summary, click here . To read a recap of the event composed by The Record, click here.