Deborah J. Davidson is a professor with the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology.
Interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose has called Canada’s plans to put a price on carbon “complete insanity.” We must follow the lead of our primary trading partner, she argues, and that partner has a climate-change denier headed for the Oval Office.
Opponents of carbon taxes have offered many arguments to support their case over the years, many of which are once again being dusted off – carbon taxes will fire a direct hit at our GDP, for instance. My favourite: Canada’s emissions are tiny, so why bother?
They will continue to find reasons to support their case, in large part because their position is rooted more in ideology than evidence.
They are not in alignment with the more than 100 countries that have enacted the Paris Agreement and have vowed to support the climate agreement – regardless of what the United States does. And they are not in alignment with the 83 global corporations, many of them Fortune 500 companies, that have committed to go 100-per-cent renewable with the RE100 pledge.
There are many reasons to be very concerned about a Donald Trump presidency, including his proposed dismantling of federal policies supporting climate mitigation – and, for that matter, climate science.
But regardless of Mr. Trump’s grandiose promises, his anticipated impact needs to be put into perspective. In many ways, momentum is just not on his side. He claims he will reinvigorate the U.S. coal industry, for example, but he has little influence over the price of coal, the falling demand in China or the abundance of cheaper natural gas. Moreover, 29 U.S. states have renewable portfolio standards, and dozens of U.S. cities have earmarked their own mitigation targets. These jurisdictions are not simply going to roll back their own climate policies at Mr. Trump’s behest.
Indeed, California, with the sixth-largest economy in the world and a population roughly that of Canada’s, didn’t wait to see what climate policies its trading partners (predominantly Canada, Mexico and China) were enacting. Relying on a bundle of policies including cap and trade, renewable portfolio and low-carbon fuel standards, as well as incentives for electric vehicles, California is on track to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In response, its economy has outpaced the country’s, with its GDP growing 4.2 per cent in 2015 (20 per cent since 2000). In fact, the state legislature just upped the ante with a call for an emission cut of 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.
A carbon tax would stimulate a number of changes in Canada with numerous benefits above and beyond lowering greenhouse gas emissions, including economic diversification, particularly a broadening of our energy portfolio to include renewable sectors.
Given our high capacity for wind and solar in Alberta, in particular, we are well positioned to help those RE100 companies fulfill their pledge.
Expansion in renewables in turn facilitates reductions in health costs associated with coal-fired power plants in Alberta, as well as increased insulation from the economic volatility associated with Alberta’s dependence on petrochemical exports.
All of which is good news – but is not really the point.
Canadians expect more from their federal and provincial governments than economic policy; they expect their elected officials to stand for democratic rights, equity and justice, too. On a per-capita basis, Canadians are among the top emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, and Albertans are the top emitters in Canada.
Even more potently, we are sitting on the world’s third-largest reserve of fossil fuels (and hence CO2).
Do our actions have global repercussions? You bet they do: If we choose to dig our reserves up and send them down pipelines for export, we can all say goodbye to keeping global warming below 2 C.
There is a clear moral imperative to support climate-change mitigation, and research consistently shows that an across-the-board carbon tax is the most fair and effective means of doing so.
The appropriate response to a Trump presidency is not less, but more: more support for the climate, for the environment, democracy, women, indigenous people, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, Muslims, minorities and the poor. This is what we stand for.Report Typo/Error
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