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Why is Canada waiting on climate change?


With examples of extreme weather we’ve seen recently in Calgary and Toronto, and the catastrophe in Lac Megantic, isn’t it time for Canada started taking more serious action on climate change and transitioning to a low-carbon economy?

Canada has so far been following the U.S. when it comes to implementing policies that address the climate crisis, but its greenhouse gas emissions have still increased in both 2010 and 2011.

In a recent speech, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed this global crisis. With time running out to contain global warming to manageable levels, Obama spoke of the only option left at his disposal — government regulation to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants, new rules which will no doubt help bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

But his proposal will be opposed from both conservatives who, in general, do not like expansion of government bureaucracy, and consumers who are all too aware that these new regulations will increase the cost of energy and place an additional economic burden on them.

However, an April 2013 Angus Reid public opinion poll indicated 58% of Canadians believe climate change to be a fact and is caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities. Furthermore, 60% of Canadians support protecting the environment, even at the risk to economic growth. As well, a July 2, 2013 Pew Global Poll indicated that 54% of Canadians feel that climate change is a serious threat to our well-being.

Two questions arise from both Obama’s speech and the polls: First, should Canada continue to follow what the U.S. is doing? And, second, how can it reduce emissions without inflicting economic pain on households while, at the same time, assuaging the concerns of some conservative by not increasing the size of government?

One way is for Canada to embrace a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which will ensure that fossil fuels pay for their true costs to society. A carbon tax corrects a distortion in the free market in which dirty energy gains an edge over clean technology. Take away the distortion, and the market will move away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By returning carbon tax revenue to households, Canadians will be able to make the transition without economic pain. Across Canada, conservative-minded people looking for an alternative to government expanding regulations should consider the market-based approach of a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

Fears that domestic manufacturers would be hurt with the implementation of a carbon tax are unfounded. They would be protected competitively by border tax adjustments at the World Trade Organization and by the environmental provisions contained within the North America Free Trade Agreement.

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy will also create jobs in Canada. In a November 2012 report, Blue Green Canada determined that $1 million invested in oil and gas creates only two jobs while creating 15 jobs in the clean energy sector (wind, solar, hydro and biomass).

That leaves us with the question: What is Canada waiting for? A January 2010 MIT Joint Report on the Science and Global Policy of Climate Change provides a possible clue: It states “with CO2 emissions caps implemented worldwide, the Canadian bitumen production becomes essentially non-viable, even with carbon capture and sequestration technology, at least through to our 2050 horizon.”

Back in the 1980s, Canada led the charge on reducing acid rain and protecting the ozone layer. Since then we have been global laggards on the climate file, but it is not too late to change.

Cathy Orlando is the national manager of Canada’s Citizens Climate Lobby, a not-for-profit, non-partisan volunteer organization. Gerry Labelle is a former Progressive Conservative candidate in Sudbury.



Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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