Saturday, December 3, 2016

Manygroups urge Trudeau to keep to his plan to price carbon

ore than sixty business, labor and environmental groups have written a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers urging that the government press forward with plans to put a price on carbon.

Next month there is to be a crucial meeting with provinces to finalize a plan for a national climate strategy. The letter said: "We applaud your initiative in developing the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change. Putting a price on carbon, to reflect the real environmental costs, is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, stimulate innovation and drive energy efficiency. Co-ordinated Canada-wide carbon pricing, rising predictably over time, can do much of the heavy lifting towards meeting our climate targets." The letter is signed by some oil and gas companies plus mining, cement, forestry and manufacturing firms. Some banks and insurance companies also signed. In total they produce about 15 percent of Canadian GDP, over one million employees and $300 billion in annual sales.
The initiative was begun by an Ottawa think-tank that focuses on solutions for a clean economy. Co-chair of Smart Prosperity Stewart Elgie said: "It's vital to hear from business leaders that a strong climate policy can also help the economy." Pierre Gratton, president of the Mining Association of Canada, which represents 39 mining companies as well as Suncor, Shell and Syncrude said: "We think it's the best way to send a market signal to reduce emissions. This is something the industry believes. It's a generally held view that is the best way forward to fight climate change."
Smart Prosperity is a group that had the blessing of the Liberals from its beginning last March 1st: "Smart Prosperity officially launched in Vancouver with encouragement from Trudeau, whose Liberal government's climate agenda appears to dovetail with the economic transformation envisioned by the new market-oriented group." It would appear that some corporations rather than fighting with environmentalists have decided to try and control the process.
What is not mentioned, is that the actual targets of the Liberals for reducing greenhouse gas are not going to be any tougher than those of the previous Conservative Harper government, targets they had been attacking for years:Federal Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna finally admitted the painfully obvious on Sunday. She acknowledged the Trudeau Liberals are not going to toughen Stephen Harper’s targets for reducing industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to climate change. This means that after years spent in opposition attacking as inadequate Harper’s targets of lowering GHG emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and to 30 percent by 2030, the Liberals are adopting them.
The Liberals are masters of progressive rhetoric accompanied by actions no better and perhaps worse than the Conservatives. In the 1993 election, then PM Jean Chretien promised he would reduce Canada's Green House Gas (GHG) emissions to 20 per cent belosw 1988 levels by 2005. He broke that promise by doing nothing to reduce emissions. Perhaps some of this background helps to understand why a market-oriented group of companies would join with the Liberals to determine climate policy.
The federal plan is to gradually phase in a $50 a tonne carbon price by 2022. Yet even this runs into strong opposition in some quarters. Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said:"It's complete insanity that we would kneecap our own economy, and put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage with a carbon tax across this country, when we know that the Americans would never do that, and have no plans to do that... Why would we put our own families, and our own companies and our own workers at a competitive disadvantage — a carbon tax makes no sense anymore."While Trump's win has been almost universally regarded as a disaster for environmental causes, it remains to be seen to what degree he remains as a climate change denier. He recently has admitted that in some way humans have had an effect on the environment. One thing certain about Trump is that his views are "flexible".
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has also been an outspoken critic of any plans to price carbon arguing that as long as there is no comparable price in the U.S., the policy would make Canadian companies uncompetitive. "We will continue to strongly oppose any attempt to impose a federal carbon tax on Saskatchewan and will not support any agreement at the December meeting unless the proposed federal carbon tax is withdrawn," said Wall in a statement.
Lorraine Mitchelmore, a former president of Shell Canada who is now co-chair of Smart Canada disagrees with the critics: "Whenever your largest trading partner does something different you pay attention, but that doesn't mean you change your long-term goals. You adjust as you move forward. You can't just have a knee jerk reaction. You have to think about the long term. This is a multi-decade business, and so how do you position it to compete today and tomorrow?" Mitchelmore said that the carbon pricing policy should be accompanied by other policies that keep Canadian companies competitive.
Jean Simard, president of the Aluminum Association of Canada even recommends that the process be accelerated. His own industry has reduced emissions by 66 percent from 1990 levels. He pointed out that other countries were moving towards lower carbon economies and that Canada needed to do so as well. He claimed it would be of real value to Canada to keep on top of the low-carbon agenda. It remains to be seen if the U.S. continues in the policies promised by Trump. If it does, the promises of the Liberals may turn out to be as they have been in the past, unkept promises.