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Ontario Releases Long Awaited Position On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by Julian Hutchinson

As a direct response to increased concerns with respect to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and continuing their good record on environmental legislation, the Ontario Government has issued a discussion paper on GHG mitigation, outlining their plan moving forward to address this issue. The paper has made sweeping recommendations on proposed changes in legislation dealing with carbon credits and how they are to be dealt with[1]. This will greatly change the environmental landscape, and more importantly dictate how companies carry out their day-to-day business. What must be noted however is that the system as described in the discussion paper appears to be focused primarily on the “larger emitters”; that is, large corporations and sources primarily associated with the fossil fuel sector. This approach may of course turn out to be less useful than a “ground-up” approach.
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Among the recommendations in the paper are:

  • introduction of a GHG reporting system/registry[2];
  • phasing out of coal plants by the end of 2014;
  • establishment of emissions limits;
  • Cost-saving investments geared at optimizing energy efficiency, mazimizing competitiveness and productivity, and to retain and create jobs (HSBC Global Research estimates that the worldwide investment in energy efficiency is USD 700 billion, and this is projected to triple by 2020)[3]; and
  • Carbon trading/offsets/cap-and trade – allows emitters to purchase permits to discharge GHGs and establish a market in those permits.

Impact for Environmental Consulting
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Historically, the provinces have taken the lead with respect to environmental conservation and protection. Bill C-38 at the federal level reinforces this, however; the federal government maintains its role in this area, with some municipalities also becoming more active, as is evidenced by their use of bylaws to regulate such matters as the development of contaminated land, or the discharge of liquid effluent into municipal sewage systems, and reporting on the emission of chemical substances in the course of business operations.[4]
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But what does this all mean, and how is it rationalized within the context of the proposed changes in the Ontario discussion paper, and how will this affect environmental litigation? Quite simply, the state of affairs is presently uncertain. Consequently, many individuals, and/or companies, will likely be requiring the assistance of either in-house or independent counsel to assist them in navigating the mire that is now environmental regulations. Additionally, despite penalties and consequences laid out previously, there is no point in having such a complex system in place if one cannot expect the regulators to effectively monitor and marshal the whole exercise. The system therefore risks teetering on the edge leading to the same failure that has befallen other similar systems in other parts of the world.
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[1] Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions in Ontario – A Discussion Paper, Ontario Ministry of the Environment (January 2013) (http://www.downloads.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/er/documents/2013/011-7940.pdf) (“GHG Discussion Paper”).
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[2] Ibid;

[3]Global Investor Statement on Climate Change: Reducing Risks, Seizing Opportunities & Closing the Climate Investment Gap (November 2010), United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (http://www.unepfi.org/fileadmin/documents/InvestorStatement_ClimateChange.pdf) at page 2”.

[4] House of Commons 2012. REPORT ON PART 3 ON BILL C-38 (RESPONSIBLE RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT) Report of the Standing Committee on Finance; Subcommittee on Bill C-38 (Part 3) of the Standing Committee on Finance . 41stParliament, First Session;