The world is facing a combined climate, pollution and biodiversity crisis. From Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that outline our rapidly diminishing window for action on climate to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report that predicts up to one million species extinctions, the writing is on the wall about how we are harming the health of our planet – and ourselves.
A wholesale change in direction is urgently required to address this combined crisis. This shift in direction must recognize and eliminate the injustice of vulnerable and racialized communities being disproportionately impacted by both the social and economic consequences of the pandemic and by climate change, resource extraction, and toxic pollution.
As other jurisdictions embrace building back better by embracing green, Ontario must adopt new approaches and recognize the need to safeguard our health and our environment if we want this province to remain competitive, prosperous and healthy.
To this end, we are providing a short summary of a more detailed set of recommendations for ensuring a healthy and sustainable future for Ontario.
We have sent the four parties a detailed questionnaire based on our recommendations. You can see their responses here.
- Restore protection and recovery efforts for endangered species with an emphasis on timely listing and recovery planning, protecting habitat and ending “pay to slay” and exemption policies that put species at even further risk.
- Get moving on meeting protected area obligations set out in the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), particularly by working with Indigenous communities to develop Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas while also working harder to protect – rather than develop – remaining natural areas in the already heavily developed Southern Ontario landscape.
- Give authority back to Conservation Authorities to properly regulate development that will affect natural areas and waterways within their watersheds and ensure independent governance, sufficient funding and expanded authority to cover agriculture, drainage, aggregates, and provincial infrastructure.
- Renew and fund the Biodiversity Strategy that expired in 2020 to align with Canada’s commitments to the CBD and targets of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
- First strengthen targets so that they reflect our obligations under the Glasgow/Paris agreements and ensure it is adequate for a goal for keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. A target of 60% below 2005 levels by 2030 should be adopted ASAP.
- Phase out gas-fired electricity by 2030 and restart renewable energy efforts, including by allowing residential and small commercial renewable system operators to earn credits.
- Embrace a suite of measures that can help us meet our targets, from a revised building code to an Electric Vehicle mandate while expanding the provincial vehicle charging network and making climate smart transit investments.
- Make the most of Ontario’s huge potential for enhancing natural carbon solutions like protecting and restoring carbon-rich peatlands and other intact wild areas.
- Stop planning for sprawl by dropping inflated population growth targets, requiring growth to be accommodated through existing settlement areas and develop better policies for accommodating growth in healthy communities with good access to transit, walking and cycling infrastructure.
- Stop freezing communities out of planning decisions by restoring reasonable supports for engagement in LPAT appeals and end use of MZOs for anything other than areas lacking planning controls or issues of true provincial interest.
- Stop wasting money and driving up greenhouse gas emissions by dropping counterproductive mega-highway plans such as Hwy. 413 and the Bradford Bypass and prohibit the building of highways in the Greenbelt.
- Focus more on green infrastructure in our build back better efforts to lower costs and environmental impacts and enhance community benefit: Ensure at least 15% of infrastructure spending flows to green infrastructure.
- Establish a dedicated green infrastructure fund to allow for planning, delivery, and ongoing management of projects and create a Green Infrastructure Support Hub to provide municipalities and practitioners with access to knowledge, technical experts, resources and training.
- Make protecting drinking water quality and source protection a government-wide responsibility and set proper limits on water takings to protect community supplies.
- Get the lead out with a lead water line replacement program to eliminate a serious threat to children and others.
- Accelerate restoration efforts for Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes with adequate funding and stop pollutants like plastics from getting into the lakes in the first place.
- Develop and fund a plan to reduce phosphorous pollution reaching Lake Simcoe to 44 tonnes per year by 2030.
- Protect globally important intact watersheds in the far north region of Ontario while developing a Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health in the south.
- Embrace rather than undercut intelligent forward-looking planning processes like regional, strategic, and comprehensive environmental assessments and restore the requirement for assessments for public sector projects while extending coverage to environmentally damaging private sector projects, including mining and smelters.
- Apply a climate lens to all project and other assessments.
- Restore long-term energy planning to support a shift to renewable energy and increased efficiency instead of a huge ramp up in gas-fired power.
- Support the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Bill 76, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, 2019 in Ontario.
- Recognize the substantive right of all Ontarians to a Healthy Environment and to keeping its ecosystems, including its watersheds, fully functional and intact.
- Move away from a wasteful and polluting linear economy and embrace circular approaches that avoid waste in the first place. Start by enacting a robust Extended Producer Responsibility system that makes companies responsible for the waste they create and gives them strong incentives to reduce waste.
- Set high targets for recycling of paper, packaging and plastics and create a beverage container return system to reduce the waste flowing into our overloaded Blue Box system.
- Get organics out of the garbage by expanding organic waste processing programs and banning organic materials from landfills.
- Toxics are everywhere in our environment and increasingly in our bodies. We need to take strong steps to reduce toxic exposure by banning substances like PFAS that are in everything from sales receipts to firefighting foam.
- Ensure we don’t recycle toxics by requiring that products sent for recycling do not contain dangerous substances.
- Encourage non-toxic choices by requiring full labelling of toxic substances on all products.
- Clear the air in “hotspot” communities with timely plans to reduce air pollution and institute real-time air quality monitoring in these communities and provide this information in real time to communities.
- Take action on unnecessary pesticide use and the spread of substances that harm pollinators by restoring the pesticides classification system and the pesticides advisory committee and ending the outdoor use of neonics.