Canada can’t buck international trend to mitigate climate change, plenty of evidence carbon taxes do work, plenty of evidence carbon capture doesn’t work
The emerging Canadian anti-carbon tax champion is Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who wrote a hard-nosed op-ed about carbon taxes in Friday’s Globe and Mail. Unfortunately, once again his message appeals to industry boosters instead of the majority of Canadians, who are concerned about climate change and the environment, but still support developing natural resources, including oil and gas.
There are three problems with Wall’s argument.
The first is that carbon taxes aren’t needed.
Setting aside the thorny issue of climate science and global warming, Wall is on the wrong side of current global politics. Even if he thinks anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, and that the COP 21 agreement on reducing emissions is just plain misguided, the fact is that this is the political direction among the world’s governments.
The United States – our biggest energy customer – has emerged as a global leader in the fight against climate change under Barack Obama. If Democrat Hillary Clinton defeats Republican Donald Trump, as polling suggests, then expect a continuation of the Obama agenda.
Canada is neither big enough nor influential enough to buck this trend.
In June, I interviewed Jim Carr, Canadian natural resources minister, for a story and asked him how important Canada’s decision to join the international climate change consensus was to gaining support for new pipeline projects and further expansion of the Alberta oil sands.
“Very, and it’s not just a question of major energy projects, it’s Canada’s leadership role. Moving towards a more sustainable energy sector, and not only here but internationally and the work we did in Winnipeg with the secretaries of energy from the United States and Mexico in signing the Northern American memorandum of understanding on energy and climate change was very important as a stepping stone and a building block,” he said.
Climate change policies are the price of admission to the new international politics. And Canada cannot stand outside the consensus.
As one political scientist explained to me, when it comes to climate policy, Canada is a price taker, not a price maker.
If Saskatchewan wants to sell its oil or its legumes or its potash – all mentioned by Wall in the op-ed as an example of resources that will be hard hit by a carbon tax – or its wheat and canola, it has to participate in national climate policies.
The second problem with Wall’s op-ed is that he says there is “little evidence” carbon taxes work.
The Premier is on shaky ground here. Economists like Andrew Leach (University of Alberta, head of the Alberta government climate policy review) and Trevor Tombe (University of Calgary) have taken to social media to point out there are plenty of studies that show carbon taxes do work.
Tombe linked to a 2015 study by Brian C. Murray and Nicholas Rivers on the British Columbia carbon tax, introduced in 2008 and applied to about 75 per cent of provincial greenhouse gas emissions.
“Empirical and simulation models suggest that the tax has reduced emissions in the province by 5–15%. At the same time, models show that the tax has had negligible effects on aggregate economic performance, though certain emissions-intensive sectors have faced challenges,” the authors wrote.
“Studies differ on the effects of the policy on income distribution but agree that they are relatively small. Finally, polling data show that the public initially opposed the tax but now generally supports it.”
Third, and this may be the real source of Brad Wall’s opposition to carbon taxes, he is promoting Saskatchewan-developed carbon capture and storage as an alternative: “We think a better approach is to develop and deploy technology capable of cleaning up emissions from the 2,400 new coal-fired power plants being planned or constructed around the world,” he wrote in the op-ed. “Carbon-capture technology works. Carbon taxes don’t.”
SaskPower’s controversial, $1.5 billion carbon capture project at the coal-fired Boundary Dam near Estevan appears to be evidence carbon-capture does not work, or at the very least it’s premature to declare it works.
The CCS project was commissioned in 2014, ran into a slew of technical and operational problems and had to be overhauled at great expense in 2015, and it appears that a year later, the jury is still out.
In fact, critics point to a report from the parliamentary budget office predicting that SaskPower’s CCS will double power prices from Boundary Dam.
So, if Brad Wall wants to be the champion of carbon tax opponents, he has to do a better job explaining why the carbon tax plan about to be imposed by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is a bad one.
Simply saying it’s bad doesn’t make it so, either in op-eds or speeches on social media, where the popular Brad Wall likes to promote his positions on political issues. That makes him a darling of the energy boosters, who probably make up 10 or 15 per cent of Canadian voters, but it does little to convince the majority.
Until he can craft a message that appeals to the middle, throwing down the gauntlet on the carbon tax appears to be a losing political strategy for Wall and those who support his opposition to the national carbon tax.