Tag Archives: Carbon pricing

Cap and fade

It was never going to be a winsome decision, but the federal government’s determination to impose some form of carbon pricing on the provinces is proving to be the first great test of the proposition that when it comes to both the environment and economy, one can have one’s cake and eat it too.

As Nova Scotia’s, Newfoundland and Labrador’s and Saskatchewan’s environment ministers stormed out of a meeting convened last week to explain the Trudeau government’s determination to unilaterally impose a framework that would exact a $10-per-tonne price on carbon beginning in 2018 – a levy that would increase by $10 per tonne each year until hitting $50 per tonne in 2022 – New Brunswick’s man on the ground shrugged sanguinely and, in effect, declared, “Hey, no big deal”.

Repeating his government’s oft-sung melody on the subject, Environment Minister Serge Rousselle trilled, “Any price on carbon brought forward by our government will be revenue neutral. And we learned from the Trudeau government that all the money received from this province will be sent back.”

That money could, by some estimates, amount to as much as $800 million a year, depending on the mechanisms the Province uses to fulfill its climate-change obligations to Ottawa. But, says Premier Brian Gallant, not to worry. “If we in New Brunswick are to get any type of monies from a price on carbon, we would reinvest that money right away. It would very be investments that would spur economic growth and a green economy. . .We agree with a lot of what is happening with the Trudeau government. They have focused on growth and they’re focused on making sure our economy is sustainable and that we transition to a low-carbon economy, which we agree with as well.”

Still, the devil is in the details. The degree to which a carbon tax – or, alternatively, a cap and trade system – properly addresses the larger problem of greenhouse gas emissions depends entirely on the technological savvy of any given province. Put another way: Are we, in New Brunswick, ramped up to pour the money clawed back from polluting industries into cleaner ones? Or will taxpayers simply be left holding bag of good government intentions – again?

On paper and in theory, the World Bank says there’s plenty of evidence that carbon pricing works. “A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage back to those who are responsible for it, and who can reduce it,” it notes on one of its many web pages. “Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price gives an economic signal and polluters decide for themselves. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved. The carbon price also stimulates clean technology and market innovation, fuelling new, low-carbon drivers of economic growth.”

Moreover, it observes, “Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future. Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

What this observation fails to clarify, however, is that where carbon-pricing plans appear to achieve the desired results, they do so as a result of many years of coordinated implementation schemes engineered by both governmental and private-sector players. In New Brunswick and, indeed, the rest of Canada, we do not enjoy the luxury of time.

We may, one day, have our cake and eat it too. But, for now, the taste will be bittersweet.

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Squaring the circle


Psychologists define cognitive dissonance as the ability to suspend disbelief in two or more fundamentally contradictory positions – sort of like a juggler who never drops the ball and, so, never faces the gravity of common sense.

I, for example, may be an ardent environmentalist even though I drive a gas-guzzler that gets lousy mileage because it’s easy on the old bank account. I happily park my tank and fill it too.

In the absence of any proof of sentience among this planet’s non-human residents, we naked apes are nature’s primo practitioners of cognitive dissonance – none better among us, perhaps, than politicians.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with provincial premiers to discuss the federal government’s plans to hasten the Canada’s transition to a low-carbon, clean-technology economy. Prior to the conference, regional leaders evinced broad consensus on the priorities: It looks good on paper; let’s see how we can make this work. In less time than it takes to change the oil in an SUV, however, the typical fault lines emerged.

Reported the CBC on the eve of the first ministers’ gabfest in Vancouver on Wednesday: “There are more than a few bruised thumbs and discordant notes already. Indigenous groups have complained the invitation list was not wide enough, while Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has levelled a series of broadsides at the federal Liberals’ promised carbon pricing.

“When asked about potential tensions Wednesday, Trudeau responded. . . ‘I expect that premiers and indeed all representatives are going to do the job they were elected to do, which is to stand up for their communities, stand up for their regions and ensure that we are working together in ways that grow the economy right across the country while protecting the environment. There is little substitute for sitting down and actually rolling up our sleeves and working together.’”

Yeah, how’s that working out for you?

Half way through the conference, the Prime Minister intimated, rather darkly for a putatively ‘sunny ways’ leader, that however the premiers decide, the feds will impose its own pricing structure on carbon.

Meanwhile, as if oblivious to the climate-change winds that are beginning to blow around the world, the New Brunswick government is agitating for its own offshore energy accord with Ottawa. In fact, according to one news report in Brunswick News, “Energy Minister Don Arseneault said during budget estimates for his department that about $300,000 is being dedicated this year to hire consultants and research the geological data required to lay the groundwork for securing an offshore accord.”

Here’s how the good fellow justified the decision in an interview with reporter Chris Morris: “Everyone around us has an accord. Quebec is on the verge of signing one. We have to watch that very closely, because we have to protect our territory as well. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow we would have offshore drilling and whatnot, but we want to protect our territory.”

And, you know, whatnot.

Still, I wonder whether such provincial lobbying (and the $300,000 price tag assigned to it) would not be more productively deployed by hitching New Brunswick’s economic fortunes to the federal government’s most recent, eminent cause, which has almost nothing to do with developing traditional oil and gas resources, and almost everything to do with making the most of what we already possess to create a clean-energy, clean-technology society on the East Coast.

As Ottawa moves to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, provincial premiers nod compliantly even as their feet remain stuck in the muck of fossil fuels. Dissonance, it seems, remains cognitively, stubbornly us.

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