The debate over climate change is over. Most accept that it is real and that it is happening right now. And the once-thriving denial industry is taking its final breaths. We have entered a period of consequences where mitigation and adaptation are becoming front and center.
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” Winston Churchill
Nations are struggling to fulfill their obligations under the Paris Agreement of 2015 — achieving their emission-reduction targets by 2030. Canada’s commitment to the accord is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% compared to its 2005 levels. And carbon pricing is the central pillar of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
Most economists and policy experts believe that carbon pricing is the best way to reduce GHG emissions while maintaining a strong economy. Yet recently, politicians facing an election are using a job-killing-carbon-tax rhetoric in the hope of gaining voter support at the polling booth. As Canada’s fall election nears, carbon pricing is shaping up to be one of the key campaign issues. In a letter sent to supporters in late December, Elizabeth May writes that “in Canada, we are engaged in an inane debate about carbon pricing in which the Liberals exaggerate the benefits of their modest, but welcome, plan and the Conservatives confirm their utter unsuitability for office.”
In the following piece, Lyn Adamson, co-chair of Toronto-based Climate Fast and member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, has 10 reasons not to abandon a key tool [carbon pricing] in the climate action toolbox. Her piece was first published in The Energy Mix.
Ten Compelling Reasons Why Carbon Pricing Works
After a multi-year fight for political acceptance, carbon pricing is suddenly under attack from all sides of the political spectrum.
Anyone who is serious about climate action and climate solutions must absolutely support the carbon pricing fee and dividend approach. Here’s why.
- It’s a method of redistributing money from high carbon emitters to lower carbon emitters. Something like 70% of households will get more back than the additional costs they incur because of the carbon price. Redistributing money is progressive, not regressive.
- Carbon pricing is one of three main strategies endorsed by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, in what she calls the “three-legged stool”. The other two legs are regulations and investment. We won’t make progress on the climate emergency by knocking out one of the legs of the stool. Commissioner Dianne Saxe said carbon pricing was working in Ontario, and that fee and dividend is a valid alternative method to cap-and-trade, which was working until the Ford government killed it off with Bill 4.
- Grassroot activists have been working for eight years to achieve this one leg of the stool at the federal level, and it has finally been adopted by the Trudeau government. We all wish they would stop buying pipelines, end all fossil fuel subsidies, and invest more in renewables. They’re doing some of this, and we should push them for more! But to fight against the one definite win by Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other citizen lobbyists is cruel and self-defeating. Instead, advocate for the leg of the stool you want—rather than attacking the climate community’s biggest win, learn from and emulate the organized lobby that made it happen.
- The Liberals are going to run with carbon pricing in their platform, and the Tories are going to fight it. Neither the New Democrats nor the Greens will form the next federal government, though their climate and carbon pricing policies will matter in ridings where they’re running strong. If you fight it, you help a political party whose leader has just walked back any commitment to meeting Canada’s already-inadequate targets under the Paris Agreement. We’ve seen the Doug Ford government trash a carbon “tax” that was being invested in hundreds of job-creating renewable projects, virtually all of which have now been cancelled, after winning an election on rhetoric that vilified carbon pricing. Is that what you want for the rest of Canada?
- Some critics of carbon pricing say it won’t make enough difference to be worth the effort. They often forget to mention that the price is meant to rise over time, and it’ll have an impact on investment decisions once the price signal is there. In Ontario, investing carbon price revenue in low-carbon projects had an immediate, incredibly positive impact at the community level.
- Going right back to first principles, carbon pricing is no more or less than a way to put a price on pollution, to correct the mismatch between the things we need and want and the signals our economy sends.
- It’s important to listen to concerns about the impact of carbon pricing on people with very low incomes. There should be a program of assistance available to those who need immediate monthly relief, rather than waiting for an income tax refund. That’s an improvement we can and should advocate for. But social justice advocates have to be careful about aligning with all-purpose carbon price opponents who just want to slow down or stop any policy that threatens fossil fuel profits.
- What happens in Canada this year will truly affect the world. Other countries are watching to see if the federal government can successfully implement fee and dividend carbon pricing and not get kicked out of power. If Canada is successful, the strategy will spread—possibly even to the United States, where it’s one of the few approaches gaining support from both parties in Congress.
- There are better and worse forms of carbon pricing and carbon trading, but it’s a mistake to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Carbon pricing sends a signal that carbon pollution cannot just be emitted for free. Yes, some large emitters are getting a break on their carbon fee, but as a larger proportion of the world’s economies adopt their own pricing systems, and tools like a border tax adjustment become a reality, those exemptions will disappear.
- California is by no means doing everything right, but they reached their 2020 climate target in 2016. Do they need more ambitious targets? Yes. Did cap-and-trade help them make progress in cutting emissions? Yes, it did. Do they also need to do other things, like phase out oil and gas development? Yes, they do. Butt that doesn’t make the carbon price a bad thing. It just means an emergency as big as climate change calls for a multi-pronged response, we need multiple tools in the toolbox, and we can’t afford to throw any of them away.
Major Breakthrough For Carbon Pricing in the U.S.
Carbon Pricing is Not Enough. Need a National Carbon Council
Here is what Stan Cox, lead scientist and research coordinator at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has to say about carbon tax (or if you prefer, carbon pricing):
“The carbon tax rates that would be required to drive emissions down rapidly enough would be much higher than any rates tried or proposed by anyone so far. The tax would have to be brutally heavy, even if there were a rebate to compensate low-income households. And the larger the rebate, the more the tax’s impact would diminish, because people would use that money to pay the taxes necessary to create more emissions. Meanwhile, the affluent would be able to unfairly buy their way out reducing their own emissions, even with a high tax. They’d whine, but they would not give up any more energy than they had to. Given all that, the majority would not stand for the unfairness, and would not accept a tax/rebate system that’s strong enough to be effective.”
(Source: Shortlink: https://wp.me/pO0No-4A6
Which leads me to ask the author of the article, Lyn Adamson — What carbon price do you think would be required to drive emissions down to net zero emissions by, say, IPCC’s target of 11 years?
And keep in mind that to be effective, we must do this for the entire global economy — not just for Canada’s economy — because climate change is a global crisis requiring a global solution.
I can’t speak for Lyn Adamson but her and I are both Citizens’ Climate Lobby members and agree that the price needed to effect behaviour needs to be closer to $200 per tonne an not the feeble $20 per tonne in year one of Canada’s national carbon pricing plan.
Carbon pricing will work but is only one of the many mechanisms needed to attain a zero-carbon world. We have a very long, very long way to go to achieve that goal. Current goals lack ambition and there’s no political will to take the bold actions that will be required.
And so, where do we go from here?
Thank you Frank for your feedback.
Cox’s argument assumes affluent people are stupid, in that they would purchase emitting products that were more expensive than non-emitting products. The whole point of a carbon tax is to change behaviour. Affluent people are not stupid (with notable exceptions, of course).
Of course affluent people are not stupid. I suspect that the notable exception you speak of lives in the U.S. in the Whitehouse.
Thank you for your interest in Below2C.