Federal budget gets high marks for conservation initiatives but disappoints on green economy spending

Budget 2018, Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class   was tabled by the federal government on February 27.  The Globe and Mail published a concise overview in  “Federal budget highlights: Twelve things you need to know” .  A compilation of reaction and analysis from the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis is here , including statements from CCPA partner organizations such as the United Steelworkers   and the Canadian Labour Congress.

budget_analysis 2018The section of the Budget which relates most to a low carbon economy is in Chapter 4: Advancement .  The Budget commits an unprecedented $1.3 billion over 5 years for conservation partnerships and the protection of lands, waters, and species at risk – prompting the Pew Trust in the U.S. to call the biodiversity targets “an example to the world” in  “With earth in peril, Canada steps up” .  Responses from the 19 environmental advocacy members of the Green Budget Coalition are compiled here , applauding the  “historic” and “landmark” investments in the Budget.  DeSmog Canada summarizes the provisions, which aim to protect 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of oceans by 2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and commit to recognizing  Indigenous leadership.

But on the climate change front?

The National Observer writes: “Budget delivers new conservation fund but avoids climate commitments” (Feb. 27) , highlighting the Budget allocations announced for the  the  $2.6 Billion Low Carbon Economy Fund  (announced in 2016) : $420 million will go to Ontario, for retrofitting houses and reducing emissions from farms;  $260 million will go to  Quebec for farming and forestry best practices, as well as energy retrofitting, and incentives for industry;  $162 million will go to British Columbia, partly for reforestation of public forests; $150 million will go to Alberta for energy efficiency programs for farmers and ranchers, for  renewable energy in Indigenous communities, and for restoring forests after wildfires;  $51 million is going to New Brunswick and $56 million to Nova Scotia for energy retrofitting. Allocations for Manitoba will be announced later, and for Saskatchewan if it signs on to the Pan-Canadian Framework.

The Pembina Institute reaction is also fairly positive in  “Budget 2018 builds on last year’s commitment to climate change” . “We are pleased to see that Budget 2018 allocates $109 million over five years to develop, implement, administer, and enforce the federal carbon pollution pricing system. …Another $20 million over five years is allocated to fulfill the PCF’s (Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change) commitment to assess the effectiveness of its measures and identify best practices. ”

Less positive reaction:  “Council of Canadians disappointed by Trudeau government’s budget 2018” (Feb.27), which  points out that the government has allocated $600 million to host the G7 summit in June 2018 in Quebec,  yet the Budget fails to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, as it committed to at the G20 meetings and in the October 2015 election.  Elizabeth May of the Green Party also “laments squandered opportunities” and points out that “Budget 2018 does not touch subsidies to fossil fuels in the oil patch and for fracked natural gas”.

In advance of Budget 2018, the Canadian Labour Congress published “What Canada’s unions would like to see in the federal budget” – a broad perspective which included a call for “a  bold green economic program of targeted investments over the next five years for renewable energy development and infrastructure” … and “ the establishment of Just Transition training and adjustment funds for workers affected by climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy, automation, the digitisation of work, and job losses caused by trade agreements like CETA.” The CLC response  to the actual Budget emphasizes the positive  developments on issues like pharmacare and pay equity, but is silent on the green economy issues. Canadian Union of Public Employees’ reaction is similar.

 

Manitoba joins the Pan-Canadian Framework, leaving Saskatchewan the odd-man-out

Facing a deadline of February 28 to qualify for approximately $67 million in federal funding through the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the province of Manitoba announced on February 23 that it will sign on to the Framework agreement.  However, the province will not compromise on its flat $25-a-tonne carbon price, as outlined in its Made-in-Manitoba climate policy document (October 2017).  Manitoba’s letter announcing its adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework is here .  The federal government’s letter welcoming  Manitoba is here , stating that Manitoba will only be in compliance with the carbon pricing provisions until 2019. Ottawa has stated that it will review each province’s carbon price plan every year starting in 2019, thus postponing until then any further conflict over the federal standard of a $50 per tonne carbon price . Details of the $2Billion Low Carbon Economy Fund, for which Manitoba now qualifies,are here.

According to a CBC report (Feb. 26), Saskatchewan is now the only province not part of the Pan-Canadian Framework, and the federal government is “just waiting” and hoping that they will commit.  New Premier Scott Moe, so far, is holding to the policies outlined in Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy, released in December 2017 under previous Premier Brad Wall – a strong opponent of a carbon tax.

Federal government releases detailed proposals for Canada’s carbon pricing system, including output-based pricing for industrial emitters

On January 15, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Finance issued a press release  announcing the full draft legislative proposals relating to the carbon pricing system. Public comment will be accepted until February 12, 2018.   The full text of  Legislative and Regulatory Proposals Relating to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and Explanatory Notes are in English  and French versions . Comment on the legislative proposals will be accepted until April 9, 2018, with “structured engagement” and consultation with provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry, and business promised over the Winter/Spring of 2018.

Minister McKenna also released for comment the proposed regulatory framework for carbon pricing for large industrial facilities – an Output-based Pricing System (OBPS), with the aim “to minimize competitiveness risks for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industrial facilities, while retaining the carbon price signal and incentive to reduce GHG emissions.   Emission sources covered by OBPS will include fuel combustion, industrial process, flaring, and some venting and fugitive sources – but notably, “Methane venting and methane fugitive emissions from oil and gas facilities will not be subject to pricing under the OBPS.”  The system will include emissions of all seven of the UNFCCC-designated greenhouse gases, “to the extent practicable” – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride. Details are  in Carbon pricing: regulatory framework for the output-based pricing system  (French version here) , and  build on the Technical Paper : Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop (French version here) , released in May 2017.

Leading up to the January release, the federal government had released clarification about the timing of  the planned backstop carbon pricing mechanism on December 20, 2017 – it  will come into effect by January 2019, bringing the carbon price to $20 per tonne in any jurisdiction that doesn’t meet the federal benchmark.  Full details are set out in:  Supplemental Benchmark GuidanceTimelines , and the Letter to Ministers . Generally positive reaction followed, from the Pembina Institute  and  Clean Energy Canada.

Initial reaction/summary of the proposed legislation released on January 15:  “Ottawa’s new carbon pricing plan will reward clean companies” from CBC,  and from the Globe and Mail, “Ottawa prepares to relax carbon-pricing measures to aid industry competitiveness” .  More substantive comment comes from the National Observer, in  “Trudeau government explains how it will make polluters pay” (Jan. 15).  Reaction from Environmental Defence came from Keith Brooks , who calls the proposed plan “an effective and fair pan-Canadian carbon pricing system.”  Reaction from  Clean Energy Canada is similar.

Meanwhile, in Alberta: Note also that the province of Alberta released their new Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) for large industrial emitters in December 2017, also based on an output-based allocation system.  Carbon Competitiveness Incentive regulations replaced the current Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) on Jan 1, 2018, and will be phased in over 3 years.  It’s expected to cut emissions by 20 million tonnes by 2020, and 50 million tonnes by 2030.  Favourable testimonials from the oil and gas, wind energy, and cement industry are quoted in the government press release on December 6.

To explain output-based carbon pricing, the Ecofiscal Commission published Output-Based Pricing: Theory and Practice in the Canadian context , by Dave Sawyer and Seton Stiebert of EnviroEconomics in early December.  The highlights of the paper are summarized here, with a discussion of the pros and cons and challenges of implementation, with special attention to Alberta’s provisions.

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

cop23An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  Germany’s Heinrich Böll Institute also issued a checklist and assessment titled  We will not drown, we are here to fight  . The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happen in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

This global alliance is the biggest COP23 news story for Canadians, coming near the end of meetings. Canada, along with the U.K. and the Marshall Islands, announced the “Powering Past Coal” global alliance to phase out dirty coal power plants around the world.  See the government press release for Canada  and the U.K. , and see the Official Declaration, which states:

  • “Government partners commit to phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.
  • Business and other non-government partners commit to powering their operations without coal.
  • All partners commit to supporting clean power through their policies (whether public or corporate, as appropriate) and investments, and to restricting financing for traditional coal power without carbon capture and storage.”

Amongst the 20-some jurisdictions already signed up to the alliance are Canada , the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the city of Vancouver, and the states of Washington and Oregon.  Noticeably absent so far are the major coal polluters – the U.S., Germany, China and India. The stated goal is to grow the alliance to 50 members jurisdictions.  The Energy Mix provides a summary and related interviews;   Climate Action Network-Canada reacted with “Powering Past Coal Announcement Shows Rise of International Collective Action; Domestic Implementation will Bring it Home” (Nov. 16);  DeSmog UK calls the alliance the “start of a journey” ;  German news source DW provides an international viewpoint of the alliance, especially focused on the politically-charged debate about coal in Germany.

There were other breakthoughs at COP23, including on  Gender Equality, Indigenous Rights, and Agriculture.   Delegates adopted the first Gender Action Plan  .  As reported in “To combat climate change, increase women’s participation”  in DW  (Nov. 20), for the first time,  there is a plan which  sets out specific activities, with a timeline for implementation, and allocation of responsibilities.  National governments are responsible for reporting back on progress on these activities in 2019.

COP23-It takes roots Indigenous NetworkThe Guardian reported “Indigenous groups win greater climate recognition at Bonn summit”   (Nov. 15) citing the improved language from the 2015 Paris Agreement.  ” The technical document approved at COP23 states:  countries “should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”  In response, the Indigenous Environmental Network states: “… while progress has been made on the UNFCCC traditional knowledge Platform for engagement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognized in the final platform document of COP 23. The burden of implementation falls on local communities and indigenous peoples.”  News and reports released by It Takes Roots, the Indigenous Environmental Network COP23 delegation, are here, including their report in opposition to carbon pricing: Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistancereleased at COP23.

Finally, regarding agriculture:   As reported by the  International Institute for Environment and Development  “After years of fraught negotiations on this issue, the COP23 decision on agriculture  requests the subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC to simultaneously address vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to tackle food security. Breaking the deadlock on issues connecting agriculture and climate change was a big win for COP23.”

 

Federal government releases “Backstop” policies for provinces not already pricing carbon – Comment period open till June 30

As part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the federal government had outlined the  Pan-Canadian Approach to Pricing Carbon Pollution,  a national carbon pricing system with mandatory benchmarks for each province.  Most provinces, representing 97% of the population, already have, or are in the process of designing, their own systems – British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia (in process).   On May 18, the Government of Canada addressed the remaining 3%  – most notably in the province of Saskatchewan –  with the release of its Technical Paper on the Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop .

The “Backstop” refers to the fact that the policies  will only apply to provinces that do not have a carbon pricing system of their own  in place by 2018.  The proposal is composed of two parts:  a levy on fossil fuels, and a cap and trade system,  patterned after Alberta’s output-based allocation system, to price pollution from industry.  The levy system would include solid, liquid and gaseous fossil fuels: gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, coal and coke – and notably, aviation fuel.  Rates would initially be set for 2018 to 2022, progressing with $10 per tonne increments annually from $10 per tonne of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) in 2018 to $50 per tonne in 2022.  The federal commits to  return direct revenues from the carbon levy to the jurisdiction of origin, but there is flexibility about how the provinces can redirect that revenue.

UPDATE:  The EcoFiscal Commission released a helpful blog post on May 24: Explaining Output-Based Allocations (OBAs),  with a promise of a further explainer about the pitfalls of OBAs, to be released soon.

Public comments about the proposals are accepted until June 30, 2017, at Carbonpricing-tarificationcarbone@canada.ca and will be used to design the final carbon system and enabling legislation and regulations.  A sampling of reaction (below)  gives the government high marks for protecting Canadian competitiveness while reducing emissions.

“Is Canada’s carbon-pricing policy striking the right balance?” (May 18) in the Globe and Mail is a general affirmation of the federal proposals by three experts from varied points of view: Christopher Ragan (Chair of the Ecofiscal Commission), Peter Robinson (CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation), and  Steve Williams ( CEO of Suncor Energy).  A business response, in a press release from  TD Economics, covers similar ground: “ Feds Stick to their carbon- pricing guns” (May 18).  It states: “Botton Line: Carbon pricing is the most efficient way of reducing emissions, and today’s announcement should help Canada achieve meaningful emissions reductions. However, follow-through post-2022 will be crucial to achieving the 2030 target. The details of the carbon pricing backstop strike a good balance, providing clear incentives for emissions reduction while taking competitiveness issues into account, recognizing that a large industrial base cannot be “turned on a dime” and will continue to face competition from non-carbon priced jurisdictions.”

From environmental advocacy groups : In “Five things to know about Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan” , Clean Energy Canada highlights the similarities of the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies, and commends the output-based credit system, saying “there’s no question that a made-in-Alberta approach will also fit Saskatchewan’s economy very well.”  Clean Energy notes that the open question of distribution of revenues will cause much future debate, as will working out the details of the allocations for heavy industry, due by 2019.

The Pembina Institute response, “Ottawa taking carbon pricing cues from provinces”  also commends the output-based allocation system, and concludes:  “It’s worth taking a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come as a country – in large part due to the vision and ambition of provincial premiers – and to reflect on how to maintain this momentum despite choppy international waters.”

The elephant is the room that everyone is talking about is the anticipated court challenge from the government of Saskatchewan, whose Premier Brad Wall has stated that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to enact a federal carbon price, and who likened  the Technical paper to “a ransom note.”   The Globe and Mail summarizes the tension in “Ottawa, Saskatchewan brace for battle over carbon pricing” .  The Pembina Institute has published a  Q& A interview with Professor Nathalie Chalifour of the University of Ottawa, who also wrote  “The feds have every legal right to set a carbon price” in October 2016 in iPolitics .

Saskatchewan’s preferred route to emissions reduction was clearly laid out in its White Paper on Climate Change released in October 2016, which states: “We should be focusing our efforts on innovation and adaptation, not taxation” – “innovation” largely meaning Saskatchewan’s investment in carbon capture and storage.  And while CBC reports  that Saskatchewan environmental groups are backing the federal Technical paper, there is widespread support for the Premier’s opposition.  According to a CBC report in March, the  Saskatchewan Taxpayers Federation,  the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association, and the United Steelworkers Local 5890, sent Prime Minister Trudeau a  joint letter outlining how a federal carbon tax would hurt Western Canada.  In  a CBC report on May 19, ‘You can’t buy a Prius and move dirt’: Critics say carbon tax will punish industry , those two industry groups make the case that  “there aren’t green alternatives for building roads, hauling trailers and working with heavy machinery.”