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What Doug Ford’s climate change plan is expected to look like

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government will, sometime in the next 10 days, release its climate change plan, and there are strong signs it will be modelled on Australia’s system for reducing carbon emissions.   

That worries climate change activists, because Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have actually been on the rise since 2015. 

The centrepiece of Australia’s climate change policy is its Emissions Reduction Fund, a $2.2-billion taxpayer-funded pool that pays companies to reduce their carbon emissions and pays farmers or landowners to take actions that offset emissions, such as planting trees or practising less resource-intensive agriculture.

In essence, it’s the reverse of cap-and-trade: instead of making industry pay to emit greenhouse gases (GHGs), the Australian government pays companies to reduce or offset their GHGs.

Australia’s emissions reduction fund was created by a conservative government, which came to power largely by campaigning to scrap the carbon pricing scheme of the left-of-centre party that was previously in government. Sound familiar, Ontario?

Amir Attaran is senior lawyer with the group Ecojustice, which is taking on the Ford government in court over its climate change policies. (CBC)

That’s not the only reason Ford is expected to borrow from Australia. The Progressive Conservatives’ election platform “Plan for the People” promised specifically to create an emissions reduction fund. Also, Environment Minister Rod Phillips in a recent speech mentioned the Australian system as a potential model. 

“We’re looking at jurisdictions around the world,” Phillips said in an interview at Queen’s Park this week. “We’ll bring a plan forward. That plan will have a number of facets to it, it’ll have [GHG reduction] targets that we’ll be committed to meeting, but it will not have a carbon tax.” 

Australia’s program has its critics, particularly because of statistics that show emissions have risen each year since the program was created. A key reason why: the Australian authorities have raised the limits on GHG emissions for many heavy industrial polluters, neutralizing the emission reductions that the government (and taxpayers) paid to achieve. 

“When you hear the Ford government say that they’re going to have an Australia plan, translate those words in your head — what it means is they have a plan to increase emissions,” said Amir Attaran, senior lawyer for the group Ecojustice, which is fighting Ontario’s recent environmental moves in court. 

“If they follow Australia’s model, there is no chance in hell that emissions will go down,” Attaran said Tuesday in an interview from Ottawa.

Mark Cameron, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, a pro-business group that supports carbon pricing, says there is some evidence that the Australian type of system can actually work to reduce emissions. However, he says it is not as efficient as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade. 

In August, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg abandoned plans to legislate to limit greenhouse gas emissions to head off a revolt by conservative lawmakers in the House of Representatives, where Turnbull’s conservative coalition held only a single-seat majority. (Rod McGuirk/Associated Press)

“It essentially involves government paying directly instead of the market encouraging people to reduce emissions on their own,” said Cameron in an interview Tuesday from Ottawa. 

Given that the Ford government says it’s cash strapped, where would it come up with the money for such a fund to pay companies? It turns out there’s nearly $1 billion sitting unspent that was raised through the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade program — money that must, by law, be spent on initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. 

By threatening to “come down hard” on what he calls “polluters,” Ford himself has hinted that the climate change plan will in some way target large industrial emitters such as steel and cement plants. That could involve setting an annual limit on each factory’s carbon emissions and charging a fee for every tonne it emits above that amount. 

It’s a system that gets support from Ford’s fellow anti-carbon-tax crusader Jason Kenney, the leader of Alberta’s opposition United Conservative Party. But Ontario’s Green Party is not as enthusiastic.

“If this government wants to come in with the heavy hand of regulation to drive down emissions, that would achieve it,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said in an interview at Queen’s Park this week.

“But it would do it at a higher cost and that cost will eventually get passed on to people.” 

The shortcoming of that model is that heavy industry is only responsible for about one-quarter of Ontario’s carbon footprint. Driving our vehicles and heating our homes and workplaces each account for more greenhouse gases. It’s not clear what the Ford government will do to try to bring down emissions in those sectors.

Ontario is already two-thirds of the way toward meeting Ottawa’s 2030 target (reducing emissions by 30 per cent from the baseline of 2005). The bulk of those reductions came from shutting down all of the province’s coal-fired power plants

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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