Carbon pricing would boost government’s credibility

(Originally published in Embassy News)

The timing seems all too perfect.

The critical COP 21 climate conference in Paris at the end of 2015 comes but a few months after the next federal election here in Canada. Nearly two years out, preparations for both events have already begun. But will they actually coincide to bring about real progress in addressing climate change?

The global climate crisis looms large. Of the 195 countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol, Canada is the only party to have withdrawn. But this agreement expires on January 1, 2016 and negotiations must advance at COP20, the international climate conference in Lima this year. Furthermore, a new agreement must be established at COP21 in Paris where the international community will be calling for a more adequate treaty with firm commitments.

The government of Canada has made repeated promises to curb carbon emissions both domestically and abroad. The announcement of the 2006 Clean Air Act began the protracted promise to introduce sector-wide emission control regulations. We also heard commitments to shift 90 per cent of Canada’s electricity generation to non-emitting sources by 2020 and to implement the polluter-pay system in the Throne Speeches from 2008 and 2013 respectively. In 2009, Canada committed both to reduce our carbon emissions to 17 per cent below our 2005 level by 2020 (as part of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord) and to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies (at the 2009 Pittsburgh Summit).

Officially, “the government of Canada supports an aggressive approach to climate change that achieves real environmental and economic benefits for all Canadians.”

But the withdrawal from Kyoto and repeated failure to put these commitments into action suggests otherwise.

From 2010-2012, Canada fully delivered on its commitment under the Copenhagen Accord Green Fund to provide its share of the $30 billion in new and additional financial resources from developed countries. The investment of $1.2 billion ($400 million each year) was Canada’s largest-ever package of support for greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

Yet, since 2012 Canada has stopped all financing to global adaptation. According to Joy Kennedy, chair of the Canadian Council of Churches—Commission on Justice and Peace, Canada’s Green Fund money was used like a “get out of jail free card” since Canada is nowhere near the emissions reduction targets agreed to in Copenhagen.

Financing will be a key piece of the Paris 2015 conference. It is essential to help developing countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change (e.g. address situations of drought or flooding) and adapt, by financing using cleaner methods of energy (e.g. windmills versus coal mines).

Many experts, including Canada’s foremost climate change economist Marc Jaccard, agree that putting a price on carbon is the most effective way to lower GHG emissions.

Based on the polluter-pays principle, carbon pricing requires polluters to pay for the damages caused to the natural environment by their activities. Carbon pricing internalizes many of the environmental and societal costs related to the production and consumption of goods and services (which current prices often ignore).

With the exception of British Columbia and to a lesser extent Quebec, prices in Canada for non-renewable fuels do not currently reflect the environmental damage from their production and use. Thus, industry and individuals have been slow to employ carbon-reducing measures such as purchasing energy efficient products, using renewable sources of energy, and practicing conservation.

Briefing notes from the Privy Council Office and Environment Canada in August 2013 advocated for a price on carbon for developing countries as part of Canada’s international climate negotiations strategy. But if Ottawa advocates carbon pricing for other countries, why not take the same step as citizens?

The federal government should introduce a carbon tax in Canada, harmonized with the provinces, especially those who already have carbon levies. To set the tax at $30 per tonne of GHG emissions would increase government revenues by about $15 billion per year. This would be a not-at-all-radical way for the market to send price signals to consumers that would result in cleaner economic growth.

Canada’s failure to address climate change needs to be made into an election issue. Citizens need to make it clear that their candidates will receive support only if they advocate ecological justice.

After all, it’s not too much to ask that our government bring its actions into line with its stated commitments.

Authors

  • Karri Munn-Venn is CPJ's senior policy analyst.

  • Ben is a former student intern at CPJ. Ben has a varied background in social services and social justice as a frontline worker having worked with; kidsLINK and Family and Children Services in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region and with the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board in Ottawa. Before moving to Ottawa, Ben studied legal studies and sociology at the University of Waterloo where he also played varsity hockey and was a three-time academic all-Canadian.

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