Boldly reimagining climate policy

Climate and Energy

This oped by Trevor McLeod originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal on March 11, 2015.

This year, international and domestic timetables will provide a real opportunity to reimagine environmental and economic policy in Canada under the leadership of the provinces. As they plan their moves, they would do well to remember sage advice from ancient Roman poet and philosopher Horace: Begin, be bold and venture to be wise.

This is shaping up to be the year in which both international and Canadian efforts on climate change begin to gain traction.

The world’s two biggest economies and biggest polluters — China and the U.S. — have broken a long-standing stalemate and have agreed to jointly push negotiations at the 2015 United Nations Convention on Climate Change summit in Paris. This deal finally charts a path to meaningful global emission reductions by bringing China and India (who together account for more than 30 per cent of global GHG emissions) to the table.

In Canada, the federal election will centre largely on economic and environmental concerns. Federal politicians are working hard to position themselves favourably, while premiers have the issues high on the agenda at their summer Council of the Federation meeting in Newfoundland.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau ventured into the heart of the oilpatch recently, telling a Calgary business crowd that provinces should take the lead on carbon policy. It is increasingly likely the provinces will have to take the lead on carbon pricing, too.

Many Canadian provinces have indeed already taken significant action on the climate file. Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have priced carbon to help them meet their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets. Ontario will soon join them. Once Ontario’s system is in place, fully 86 per cent of Canadians will live in a province with a carbon price.

Yet Canada has been criticized for not being bold enough.

Canada is not on track to meet its international GHG commitments (17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020). If it is to mount a serious effort to achieve its targets, Canada must be particularly bold — especially when oil and gas emissions are set to increase by 45 megatonnes between 2005 and 2020. The increase in oil and gas emissions — largely from growing oilsands (Alberta) and liquefied natural gas (B.C.) – will almost entirely offset the expected 50-megatonne emission decrease in the electricity sector.

The debate in Canada has become hopelessly polarized. The dominant narrative suggests that we need to choose between a strong economy and a healthy environment. This is a false choice, one that ignores the interdependence of our economic prosperity and environmental performance.

Make no mistake; it would be bold to implement environmental policy that shuts down the oilsands at great cost to the Alberta and Canadian economy. But, like the philosopher said, it is not enough to be bold. Canada must also venture to be wise.

But, what does wise climate strategy look like? Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission gives us a glimpse.

The commission has assembled an advisory team of heavy hitters from across the political spectrum and has paired them with a group of top economists. The goal is to identify and promote practical fiscal solutions for Canada that spark the innovation required for increased economic and environmental prosperity.

On March 11, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission and the Canada West Foundation will bring experts together in Edmonton to support the creation of wise climate policy.

It would not be surprising if these experts agreed that it is wise to open a new middle ground for climate policy — one that is eminently more practical than “doing nothing” or “changing everything.”

It would not be surprising if they agreed it is wise to actually reduce GHG emissions while growing the economy.

It would not be surprising if they agreed it is not wise to introduce regional wealth transfer schemes disguised as climate policy (i.e. the Liberal Party’s Green Shift was not wise).

But surprises often emerge when experts gather. In a year when climate policy has traction, the commission has momentum. Canadians should join them as they seek bold and wise solutions that bridge the gulf between a strong economy and a healthy environment.

About the Author

Trevor McLeod is director of the Centre for Natural Resources Policy at the Canada West Foundation.

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