06/16/2016 01:07 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 01:59 EDT

Pressure Is Needed To Make Sure Climate Action Actually Happens

Andrew Francis Wallace via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 8 - Premier Kathleen Wynne and Environment Minister and Climate Change, Glen Murray (R) during the unveiling of Ontario's Five Year Climate Action Plan at Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto, ON, June 8, 2016. (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our generation. We are running out of time to address it, as the risks and costs of the crisis grow. For far too long Queen's Park has failed to muster the political will to tackle it.

The good news is that Ontario finally has a climate action plan. Better yet, the province has now put a price on carbon pollution. For this, environmental organizations, progressive media and even industry leaders have praised the Liberal government. Some action is better than no action.

The not-so-good news is that many aspects of the Liberal plan are intentions to develop a plan for future actions -- a bit fuzzy, given the scale and immediacy of the problem. The even worse news is that the plan is weakest in the area that it needs to be the strongest to be effective: its carbon price.

The centerpiece of any effective climate action plan is simple -- put a high enough price on carbon pollution to change people's behaviour. It's economics 101.

Higher prices push people to buy lower cost goods and services. In this case, higher prices for carbon create market incentives for consumers to purchase low carbon goods and services. This creates market opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovative businesses to develop low carbon goods and services.

As I've said before, we can't let the Liberals turn cap-and-trade into cap-in-hand.

This is where the Liberal plan fails to deliver the bold action we need now to address the climate crisis. Instead of putting a transparent and adequate price on carbon pollution, the Liberals have put forward a cap-and-trade scheme that tries to hide their carbon price, and sets the price too low at around $18/tonne. Worse still, the Liberals have given big polluters a free ride, by issuing free emission permits to over 100 of the province's biggest polluters. This is not a recipe for success.

To compensate for the poorly designed cap-and-trade scheme, the Liberals have resorted to a basket of carrots -- rebates for electric vehicles, incentives for low carbon buildings and subsidies for low carbon fuels. Some of this spending will certainly help people, such as the $380 to $500 million to retrofit social housing units to make those buildings more energy efficient. Others are more dubious, such as the $10 to $20 million for car dealers to train their staff to sell more electric vehicles.

The biggest winners in the Liberal plan could very well be the lobbyists hired by polluters to obtain free emission permits, and by industry insiders to fill their particular basket of carrots.

As I've said before, we can't let the Liberals turn cap-and-trade into cap-in-hand. This plan is dangerously close to having that happen. In some cases, it already has.

Given this government's challenges with ORNGE, eHealth, Pan Am Games, and gas plants, I don't have much confidence in their ability to pick winners and losers. Worse yet, this government has a proven track record in undermining its own environmental legislation -- gutting its award winning Endangered Species Act, creating sixteen exemptions to its Places to Grow Act to support the Midhurst Mega development, and building a gas plant inside the Greenbelt.

If this plan has any chance of success -- and I want to be clear that Greens want climate action to succeed -- Ontario will need strong opposition voices to punish the Liberals when they put insider interests before people and planet.

On the climate file, Ontario doesn't have that kind of voice at Queen's Park right now.

For years the Conservatives have simply denied the climate crisis. Even with their recent conversion to vaguely support a price on carbon, the PC's reaction has focused on how climate action will hurt people, not on how to solve the crisis or how Ontario can prosper in a low carbon economy.

The NDP, on the other hand, say they want climate action. But they haven't made any meaningful contributions to the conversation beyond their criticism of Liberal inaction. After 18 months of climate consultations, the only thing clear from the NDP is that they kind of support the Liberal's cap-and-trade scheme.

I truly believe Minister Murray and Premier Wynne want to take action on climate change. But with the elected opposition MIA, the Liberals have been vague -- or even contradictory -- in their actions.

The public -- and dare I say the currently unelected opposition -- will need to do the heavy lifting to make sure the government delivers on the aspirations outlined in Ontario's Climate Change Action Plan. Otherwise the lobbyists will win, while people and the planet will lose.

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