By Karri Munn-Venn on July 6th, 2015
There was a time not too long ago that climate change was a bit of a fringe issue. No more. It has moved into the mainstream.
This spring, major media outlets lamented the failure of the Canadian federal budget to even mention the climate. The largest energy companies in the world, including Suncor, have publicly called for a price on carbon. And 25,000 people took to the streets of Quebec City imploring provincial leaders to act on climate.
Then, at their April Climate Summit, premiers agreed to “implement measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; strengthen pan-Canadian climate change cooperation; and make a transition to a lowercarbon economy.”
Soon afterwards, the federal government also made two significant climate announcements. First, it announced a new target to reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Then in June, Canada was party to the G7 leaders’ agreement acknowledging the urgency of the climate crisis and committing to “decarbonize the global economy in the course of this century.”
Finally, after great anticipation, Pope Francis issued an encyclical citing "an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced."
The terrain has shifted. Climate justice is no longer simply the purview of environmentalism and social justice.
There is growing awareness that everything is connected. We’re still a long way from the ambitious agreement required out of the Paris climate talks. However, a broad-based consensus is emerging: we must reduce – and ultimately eliminate – our use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Putting a price on carbon
While several measures would aid the process of decarbonization, what’s most urgently needed is a price on carbon.
British Columbia has led the way in Canada with a revenue-neutral tax on all fossil fuel sources. It currently sits at $30/tonne. Since the tax was introduced in 2008, fossil fuel consumption in the province is down 19 per cent while its GDP has continued to rise.
Quebec, in turn, belongs to the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a partnership to lower GHG emissions through a multi-regional cap-and-trade system. Under this system, a hard ceiling is placed on the pollution allowed in each sector of the economy. Companies each receive GHG emission quotas that they can use themselves, or, where innovation and efficiency prevail, sell to others in the WCI. Ontario too has chosen cap-and-trade, and in April announced they would be joining the WCI.
Alberta was the first jurisdiction in Canada to put a price on carbon. Large emitters are charged $15/tonne for emissions over a set amount, which amounts to an effective tax rate of a mere $1.80/tonne, if applied to all emissions. Under Premier Notley, the province is expected to amp up carbon pricing.
Federally, Canada remains an international outlier on action to address climate change. We’re set to fall far short of our 2020 target, our new target is the weakest among the G7, and the corresponding new measures are vastly inadequate.
Citing unique “national circumstances” – namely climate-related demands for heating and cooling, a large land mass, and a resource-based
economy – our leaders claim to be doing as much as they can.
It simply isn’t enough. The only way to effectively reduce emissions would be to face the oil sands head-on. Regulation is imperative, as is ending fossil fuel subsidies. Most urgently, however, the federal government should introduce a harmonized carbon tax at a rate of $30/tonne of GHG emissions.
This would be a solid start and a not-at-all-radical way for the market to send price signals to consumers that would result in cleaner economic growth. It would also generate about $15 billion per year in government revenues.
The Government of Canada needs to lead on this issue. It is too important for them to do otherwise.
CPJ is preparing study, worship, and action guides for use in your faith community in the months leading up to The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. We will also holding Prayers4Paris vigils in Ottawa and across Canada during the climate change talks. To learn more visit cpj.ca/climate or contact Karri Munn-Venn
Karri is CPJ's Senior Policy Analyst.