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Canada's Ontario disappoints with new climate plan

[OTTAWA] Ontario unveiled a plan Thursday to combat climate change by replacing its cap-and-trade system with a fund to help companies reduce emissions - prompting criticism from environmentalists and Canada's federal government.

The nation's most populous province and its main economic engine wants to spend C$400 million (S$411 million) over four years to help the private sector drive Canada toward its goals under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

But critics say it allows total emissions to rise.

"This plan reverses years of progress," said the Pembina Institute, while Greenpeace described it as a "major retreat from what was being done to fight climate change in Ontario."

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Canada agreed under the Paris Agreement to reduce its CO2 emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Named The Ontario Carbon Trust, the new blueprint follows an Australian model to inject money into the private sector to promote green practices.

Under cap-and-trade systems like the one introduced by Ontario's previous Liberal administration, authorities sell a limited number of permits that allow companies to discharge specific quantities of a specific pollutant per time period.

Since his election in June, Ontario premier Doug Ford has railed against a proposed federal "carbon tax" and joined a lawsuit with Saskatchewan against Ottawa's threat to impose it on provinces that don't fall in line with its emissions reduction strategy.

Ontario environment minister Rod Phillips said the new plan represented "a clean break from the status quo" that would balance a healthy environment with a healthy economy.

But his federal counterpart, Environment minister Catherine McKenna, accused Ontario of "going backward on climate action."

"The Ford government wants to go back in time and they want to make it free to pollute," she said in the foyer of the House of Commons.