Canadians want Ottawa to be part of an international treaty to combat climate change, and would even support carbon taxes as a means of meeting the country's emission reduction targets, a new poll suggests.
Support for action on climate change has slipped from five years ago, but it remains high on the list of Canadians' concerns, according to the survey by Environics Research Group, released to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday.
But for all the noisy opposition from parliamentary critics and environmentalists, the Harper government's climate policies generally align with the views of a majority of Canadians, Environics pollster Keith Neuman said Wednesday.
Environment Minister Peter Kent travels this weekend to the United Nations climate conference in South Africa, and has already sparked concern among developing countries and political opponents at home that Canada is preparing to walk away from the Kyoto Protocol.
Mr. Kent insists Ottawa would support a new treaty that includes commitments from the United States and large emerging countries such as China and India to reduce emissions. However, negotiators have failed to make much progress on a new deal. And emerging economies and poorer ones want Kyoto principles to form the basis of any successor treaty.
While critics say the Harper government is retrograde in its climate change policy, the Conservatives have balanced their opposition to Kyoto and backing for the emissions-intensive oil sands with support for a new global deal and promised regulatory action at home.
It's an approach that appears to resonate with Canadians, Mr. Neuman said.
"It is not clear to Canadians what the right treaty is or what the right approach is, but they want something done," he said in an interview.
In the 2011 version of the annual environmental survey, more Canadians named climate change and other environmental issues as the most serious problem facing the world than any other issue, even as their fear about global recession has climbed in the past year.
Consistent with that view, a clear majority – 56 per cent – said they want Canada to sign on to a new international climate agreement, even it means job losses in some domestic industries and higher prices for some goods and services.
Climate change is not seen as a "clear and present danger" at home, Mr. Neuman said. When asked what is the most pressing issue facing Canadians, respondents named the economy and health care far more frequently than environmental issues, and climate change trails toxic chemicals and water quality on the list of domestic concerns.
Nearly three quarters of respondents said they would support governments setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions, even if that meant higher energy prices. However, those who "strongly favour" such polices – as opposed to just "favour" – fell to 26 per cent from 38 per cent in the past year.
The most direct and broad-based climate policy is the carbon tax the B.C. Liberal government imposed two years ago.
British Columbians appear to support the carbon levy even though it has increased gasoline prices by six cents a litre. Some 57 per cent of B.C. respondents said they support the carbon tax, including 24 per cent who said they strongly support it.
The majority of respondents outside British Columbia said they would support such a levy, which has also gained support from several major business organizations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ruled out a carbon tax.
The poll surveyed 2,000 people between Nov. 15 and 27. It has a margin of error of 2.1 per cent.