Canadian government is falling short of GHG emissions targets, needs a plan to phase out fossil fuel subsidies

On October 3, Canada’s  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled highly critical audit reports in the House of Commons.  From the  Commissioner’s press release  : “the government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have fallen short of its target and that overall, it is not preparing to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Only five of 19 government organizations had fully assessed their climate change risks and acted to address them.” … “Many departments have an incomplete picture of their own risks, and the federal government as a whole does not have a full picture of its climate change risks. If Canada is to adapt to a changing climate, stronger leadership is needed from Environment and Climate Change Canada, along with increased initiative from individual departments.”   The Commissioner also criticized the Department of Finance and Environment and Climate Change Canada for a “disconcerting lack of real results” towards meeting  Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

The CBC reports on reaction and press conference remarks; the National Observer ran two articles, “Watchdog finds Canada ‘nowhere near’ ready for climate risks” and  “Parliamentary watchdogs conducting nationwide climate audits“, which reports that, for the first time, Auditors General are conducting climate change audits of all federal, provincial and territorial governments, working together to develop reports for their respective jurisdictions and a summary report of national performance on mitigation and adaptation.

The October 2017 federal  audit reports are all available in English and in French. The relevant reports are: Progress on Reducing Greenhouse Gases—Environment and Climate Change Canada ; Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change; Funding Clean Energy Technologies; and  Departmental Progress in Implementing Sustainable Development Strategies. The archive of previous reports is here .

Nova Scotia introduces Cap-and-Trade legislation

A press release on September 29  announced that the Nova Scotia government has introduced amendments to the Environment Act, enabling regulations to set caps on GHG emissions, distribute and enable trading of emission allowances within the province, and set a province-wide greenhouse gas emission target for 2030.  The province will create a Green Fund to support climate change initiatives and innovations, and  money from emissions sales and fines will be deposited there.  Next steps include “developing greenhouse gas reporting regulations this fall and consulting with stakeholders on them”.

The amending legislation, Bill 15, received first Reading in the Legislature on September 29 as a means to satisfy the requirement of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.   However, reaction from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax urges the federal government to reject the plan, stating that “A carbon pricing system that doesn’t actually put a price on carbon, support low-income people, or incentivize clean growth truly misses the point.” The EAC also warns of the risks of extreme volatility since the plan is structured to create a carbon market within Nova Scotia alone – covering a population of under a million people and about 20 businesses.   The Ecology Action website has compiled documents and submissions from the provincial consultations leading up to this announcement. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia Office published a Backgrounder in May 2017 which outlines its proposals for a  stronger cap-and-trade policy.

$2 Billion Low-Carbon Economy Fund announced, but Saskatchewan headed in a different direction

On June 15, Canada’s  Federal Environment and Climate Minister announced  details of the  government’s five-year, $2-billion Low Carbon Economy Fund , to support the goals of  the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  The Low Carbon Economy Fund consists of two parts: the larger, Leadership Fund of  $1.4 billion, for projects proposed by  provinces and territories that have signed on  Pan-Canadian Framework , and the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, which  will be launched in fall 2017,  to support projects submitted by all provinces and territories, municipalities, Indigenous governments and organizations, businesses and both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations.  As described in “’Only fair’: McKenna on excluding Saskatchewan, Manitoba from $2B carbon fund” , Manitoba and Saskatchewan must sign on to the Pan-Canadian Framework by December 2017 to be eligible to receive any funding .

geothermalA CBC report summarizes the response by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – who states, “”If this fund, which Saskatchewan taxpayers have helped create, is really about reducing carbon emissions, how does withholding those funds for green initiatives in Saskatchewan help that objective?”  Saskatchewan objects to the carbon tax mandate of the Pan-Canadian Framework, and has directed its climate change fight to carbon capture and storage, and more recently, Canada’s first geothermal power plant.  The press release from SaskPower regarding the geothermal power purchase agreement is here. Read  this article from DeSmog blog for a wide-ranging description of Saskatchewan’s energy policy and the announcement of its geothermal plant.

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.”

 

 

Carbon pricing in Canada: Recent research, and implementation in Alberta and Ontario

Research about carbon pricing continues in the effort to implement the Pan-Canadian Framework.   In November,  Carbon Pricing and Intergovernmental Relations in Canada was released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy,  evaluating  the federal government’s national carbon pricing plan to that point (i.e. before the announcement of the Pan-Canadian Framework ), with an emphasis on the flexibility required for provincial differences. It then discusses the intergovernmental coordination in other policy fields in Canada ( income taxes, goods and services taxes, and environmental standards) as a possible model for carbon pricing.

As part of the Pan-Canadian Framework in December , the comprehensive  Final Report of the Working Group on Carbon Pricing Mechanisms  was released, providing an overview of Canadian and international practice, as well as a discussion of principles for design and implementation.

Finally, a report about British Columbia, the home of Canada’s first carbon tax. A  December report modelled the impact of the 2016 provincial Climate Leadership Plan and a federal carbon price on GHG emissions. It concludes that even  if all provincial policies were implemented,  B.C.’s emissions will exceed the targets for 2020 and for 2050. The report provides a breakdown of emissions by sector and forecasts that the largest single source of emissions in 2050 will be from shale gas operations and liquefied natural gas projects.  Modelling the Impact of the Climate Leadership Plan and Federal Carbon Price on British Columbia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions  was commissioned by Clean Energy Canada,  the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and the Pembina Institute, with analysis by Navius Research.

In the meantime, two provinces have moved ahead with previously announced policies. Alberta’s carbon levy came into effect on January 1, 2017, cushioned by the government press release of  December 31  titled  “Carbon levy supports diverse, green economy and jobs”  which summarized the details. The levy will be charged on transportation and heating fuels  – diesel, gasoline, natural gas and propane – at a rate of $20 per tonne, increasing to  $30 per tonne in 2018.  As further explained on a government website  , farmers and First Nations are generally exempt; a 33 per cent small business tax rate cut will help offset costs for small businesses, and the direct and indirect costs to consumers  are estimated. Rebates started flowing for a majority of Alberta households on January 5, with a payment  of $200 per year for a single adult earning up to $47,500 per year , and $300 for a couple earning up to $95,000 per year.   In addition to the government explanation, see “What you need to know about Alberta’s Carbon Levy”   from the Pembina Institute ,  or a CBC  interview with Andrew Leach , generally considered the architect of Alberta’s climate plan . “The Cost of Carbon Pricing in Alberta and Ontario”, by professors Trevor Tombe and Nic Rivers, appeared in Maclean’s magazine (Jan. 4). It explains the differences in the two approaches and explains the methodology for their estimate that  “Overall, for the average Alberta and Ontario household in 2017, direct costs will likely be on the order of $150 to $200 annually and indirect costs will add an additional $80 to $100 or so.”  The conclusion:  “heated political rhetoric that suggests carbon pricing will lead to skyrocketing price increases throughout the economy is misplaced at best and misleading at worst.”

Media rhetoric seems to have been directed at Alberta, rather than Ontario, where the cap and trade system, a cornerstone of the Climate Action Plan , also took effect on January 1, 2017.  The government’s Explainer is here , and estimates that “it will cost the average Ontario household about $13 more per month to fuel a car and heat a home in 2017”.  The government also estimates  proceeds of $1.9 billion per year , which must be re-invested to reduce GHG emissions, such as social housing retrofits, public  transit, and electric vehicle incentives.  See details of the related Green Investment Fund here.  The 2016 Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report  (November 2016) of Ontario’s Commissioner of the Environment  offers an explanation of how the system works, and discusses pitfalls, solutions, the need for transparency, and the likelihood that the system will deliver the scale of GHG reductions promised.