To Keep Climate Promise, Canada Must Build on Successful Local Strategies

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To Keep Climate Promise, Canada Must Build on Successful Local Strategies

Canada should adopt successful provincial policies—like a carbon tax and elimination of coal-fired power plants—on a national level, says David Suzuki Foundation

The David Suzuki Foundation report recommends that coal-fired power plants, like this one in Alberta, be phased out across Canada. (Photo: Pembina Institute/flickr/cc)

Adopting provincial strategies that have been shown to work—such as implementing a carbon tax, placing a regulatory cap on emissions, and eliminating coal-fired power plants—could help Canada keep climate promises it will likely otherwise break, says a report issued Wednesday by the Vancouver-based David Suzuki Foundation.

The study, "Building on the Best: Keeping Canada's Climate Promise" (pdf), used analysis by the Canadian research firm Navius Research to examine the best climate change policies being used in Canada and how they can be applied at the federal level. It found that "despite Canada’s poor reputation on climate change policy internationally, several significant and effective policies to reduce emissions have been implemented at provincial and municipal levels."

Were such strategies to be employed nationwide, Canada would come significantly closer to meeting its stated 2009 commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020—an unlikely scenario in the absence of a unified approach.

In an October 2014 report, the auditor general's office stated that Canada was not on track to meet its international target because the federal government's plan to reduce carbon pollution "has been ineffective and the action it has taken has been slow and not well coordinated" among provinces. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is known for his dismal record on climate change; earlier this year, Jamie Henn of 350.org called the Harper administration "just another member of the carbon cartel."

"By adopting the strongest policies already in place in parts of the country, Canada could develop a unifying climate change strategy that would allow us to meet our international commitments and targets," said David Suzuki Foundation science and policy manager Ian Bruce, who co-authored the report. "As many have pointed out, including Canada's auditor general and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, Canada does not have plans in place to keep its promise to the world."

Specifically, the report highlights Quebec's cap on industrial carbon pollution and Ontario's phase-out of all coal-fired electricity, a goal it achieved in April 2014. It also notes British Columbia's broad tax on carbon, which applies throughout the economy and has decreased the province's consumption of fossil fuels by 19 percent per capita compared to the rest of the country since it was implemented in 2008.

The Suzuki Foundation asserts that had some of these these key policies been put in place across Canada in 2008, emissions would be 77 million tons lower by 2020, bringing the country close (within 5.6 percent) to its international emissions target.

The Globe and Mail reports:

In an interview from Peru, where she is attending the UN’s COP20 climate-change conference, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said British Columbia and other provinces are leading by example and she hopes Ottawa takes note.

Ms. Polak said B.C.'s carbon tax has been a popular topic at the conference, and she was pleased to be able to tell delegates that B.C. is on target to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 33-per-cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

"It’s great to have B.C.’s climate leadership recognized so publicly on the international stage," she said. "Just [Monday], World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said B.C.’s carbon tax is, and I’m quoting here, 'one of the most powerful examples of carbon pricing.'"

In 2008, B.C. became the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce a carbon tax.

Ms. Polak said there is "recognition globally that carbon pricing is necessary to reduce GHG emissions and that B.C.’s broad-based, revenue-neutral carbon tax is a successful model other jurisdictions could follow."

In an op-ed published Thursday, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, both members of The Elders—an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights—echoed the call to put a price on carbon, a step that would encourage continued development of alternative energy and help countries meet their climate goals. 

"What is also now clear is that at the heart of the process must be a binding international agreement on pricing carbon emissions," they wrote. "Without such an agreement, the change of behaviour to drive the shift to low-carbon economies simply will not happen."

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