Greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes: A global perspective - Canada

by White & Case LLP

White & Case LLP

Ontario and Québec lead the way in developing trading schemes

Canada's federal government recently entered into an agreement with eight Canadian provinces and three Canadian territories that is likely to accelerate the development of provincial and territorial greenhouse gas (GHG) trading systems. The December 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change Framework outlines a federal benchmark for carbon pricing in Canada. Signatory jurisdictions can implement either (1) an explicit price-based system like a carbon tax or (2) a GHG cap-and-trade system similar to the Québec-California connection, as discussed on page 3. Ontario is following Québec's lead with the development of its own GHG emissions trading scheme.


The Province of Québec's GHG emissions trading scheme is more similar to the California system than it is to the RGGI cap-and-trade initiative. As a result, the Québec scheme has been harmonized with the California system since 2014.

What is covered

Following an expansion in 2015, Québec's cap-and-trade system now applies to power plants, industrial facilities and fuel distributors. While fuel distributors are subject to a lower threshold, power plants and industrial facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide (CO2)-equivalent are subject to the provincial regime.

What is required

The Québec system covers the same broad suite of GHGs that the California system covers. Covered entities must surrender equivalent allowances to their emissions. Generally, power plants and fuel distributors have to buy 100 percent of their allowances at auction or on the secondary market. Allowances are auctioned jointly with California through the California Cap-and-Trade Program and the Québec Cap-and-Trade System Joint Auction of Greenhouse Gas Allowances. Certain industrial sectors subject to international competition—such as aluminum, cement, chemical, petrochemicals, mining, pulp and paper, and refning—receive some free allowances. However, this allocation of free allowances will continue to diminish over time. Offsets are allowed, subject to quantitative and qualitative limitations. Examples of Québec program offsets include landfll gas collection and destruction of ozone-depleting substances in insulating foam or used as refrigerants removed from refrigeration, freezer and air-conditioning appliances.

Future outlook

By 2020, Québec's system is intended to support a 20 percent provincial reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels.


Offsets issued by California, and any jurisdiction connected with Québec in the future, are recognized for compliance.


The Ontario Cap and Trade Program is relatively new, having only come into effect in January 2017.

What is covered

The Ontario GHG emissions trading scheme applies to natural gas distributors and industrial emitters that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of CO2-equivalent, fuel supplies that supply 200 liters or more of petroleum products, and electricity importers who frst import electricity into Ontario for consumption in cases where generation facilities receive fuel directly from inter-provincial or international gas pipelines.

What is required

The Ontario system covers the same broad suite of GHGs that the California and Québec systems cover. Emitters must cover their emissions in each compliance period with an equivalent number of emissions credits. These credits can be obtained through provincial allocations or auctions, or through purchases in the secondary market. Credits can be traded among emitters and other market participants. Offsets can be used to help meet part of a covered entity’s emission requirements under the cap-and-trade program.

Future outlook

The first auction of Ontario emissions allowances was in March 2017. In the first compliance period (January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2020), most large emitters will receive most of the allowances they require free of charge. Following 2017, the number of credits issued by the province will decrease over a three-year period to support a reduction of Ontario's GHG emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2020.


As discussed above, Ontario intends to connect its GHG trading scheme with the California and Québec regimes by 2018. Once this connection occurs, the three jurisdictions will hold joint auctions of emissions allowances. Emitters in any of the three jurisdictions will be able to purchase credits on the secondary market from covered entities in any of the three jurisdictions.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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