Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Progress Is Incremental

There are those -- particularly Elizabeth May -- who are furious that the Trudeau government plans to keep the Harper government's emission targets. As I argued yesterday, it gives the impression that the Harper government never left. Chantal Hebert takes a different tack. She points out that the majority of Canadians support a tax on carbon:

According to an Abacus poll done last month, less than one third of Canadians oppose the introduction of a carbon tax as part of a larger climate change strategy. An overwhelming majority of non-Conservative voters support or could accept such a measure.

It is a rare tax that finds favour with a majority in the public especially on the heels of decade-long concerted federal effort to vilify the concept. According to Abacus, the rhetoric expended by Harper’s government on making a carbon levy politically toxic even fell on the deaf ears of almost four in 10 Conservative voters.

She argues that Trudeau is building a ladder for action on climate change:

It is hard to reach for the sky in the absence of a ladder.

The introduction of a national price on carbon is a crucial part of the building of a Canadian policy infrastructure sturdy enough to achieve steady progress on curbing carbon emissions. This is a policy for which governments will need public support for the long haul.

The popular consensus on carbon pricing was not born out of thin air. The fact that there is wide provincial support for the concept is an essential part of the mix.

And keeping Harper's targets, she argues, is not the same as keeping Harper's do nothing policy:

Keeping Harper’s targets is not the same as sticking with the Conservatives’ climate change plan. By maintaining the existing targets, Trudeau’s Liberals maximize the chances that the transition to a national price on carbon (complete with an escalator clause) is relatively seamless.

Given a choice between setting goals that may or may not be attainable at a prohibitively high political (and economic) cost, or putting in place the conditions for meeting more ambitious ones on a consensual federal-provincial basis over time, the latter should logically take precedence.
In particular, the election of an NDP government in Alberta has altered the alignment of the stars.

All progress is incremental. Whether it will be too little too late remains to be seen.

Image: envirovaluation.org


Steve said...

Carbon tax yes, tax what you want less off. Its so simple even conservatives should get it. Cap in trade more TPP nonsense.

Owen Gray said...

It would appear, Steve, that the majority of Canadians get it, too.

Toby said...

A carbon tax is only effective if it hurts enough that people stop buying fuel hogs. We all have to change our behaviour. A small tax that is "revenue neutral" as Christy Clark is so fond of telling us does nothing.

A far better start would be to eliminate the subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies. Then place the carbon tax on their products at source.

Lorne said...

The Mound and i have been on the same page regarding our frustration and disappointment with the Trudeau record thus far, Owen; however, I have to admit that Chantal's column did provide some food for thought. But like you, I do have to wonder whether this go-slow approach on climate-change initiatives is viable, given the rapid changes we are already seeing in our weather during these 'early stages' of global warming.

Toby said...

Global trade deal threatens Paris climate goals, leaked documents show

I never heard of TISA but these trade deals make governments impotent.

Owen Gray said...

The whole idea these days, Toby, is to skirt laws. This should comes as no surprise. Thanks for the link.

Owen Gray said...

The problem is that it's hard to keep people's hands out of the cookie jar once they've tasted its contents, Toby.

Owen Gray said...

I understand the politics behind it, Lorne. But I'm not sure it's the right solution.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm with Lorne on this one, Owen. Carbon pricing (taxation) at this point has probably lost most of its utility if they objective is significant reduction in Canadian greenhouse gas emissions. It's too little, too late and merely postpones or displaces more effective initiatives that we should be pursuing.

What concerns me most is my suspicion that this is a political gesture that's not tied to meaningful targets and verifiable results. "Oh, look. I'm fighting climate change." Having just experienced another night of our newfound, biblical rain storms, I found myself thinking about adaptation - larger eavestroughs, better drainage tiles, etc. Our governments, federal and provincial, ought to be doing much the same thing but there's nary a sign of it.

Here's an idea. Why don't they crunch the numbers on what it would cost to repair, upgrade and replace Canada's essential infrastructure to withstand this new epoch, the Holocene with its severe weather events of increasing frequency, duration and intensity. Use those figures, say on a 20-year term, to determine how much carbon tax needs to be raised just to fund critical infrastructure costs. There's a number I could support.

Owen Gray said...

That's an excellent idea, Mound. This really is a case of pay me now or pay me later -- but pay me.

Anonymous said...

Toby: I agree with you that a small tax will be ineffective. But a tax can be revenue neutral and large. What do you think about James Hansen's suggestion: tax greenhouse gases at the source, and redistribute 100% of that revenue to citizens?
(The idea being that people who produce less greenhouse gas will ultimately benefit more than those who produce more greenhouse gas...)