A new direction for Canadian climate change policy
Nov 7, 2010

A new direction for Canadian climate change policy

Canada needs to drop the illusion that simply copying the American strategies on global warming initiatives is a viable path. While one could have called it earlier, with the loss to Republicans in the US house we can definitively say that a comprehensive cap and trade legislation in the US is dead for at least two years. We can no longer pretend that waiting to see what the US does and copying them is going to accomplish anything in the near term. Additionally, the shift in momentum on climate change action on both sides of the boarder is towards states and provinces, not the federal governments. This should be embraced.

Since many nations walked out on Canada in Copenhagen, most credulity for Canada being in any sense a leader on climate change, at least federally, has been lost. Part of this is that very openly and often repeated is that the Harper governments policy is to wait and see what kind of cap and trade scheme Obama can pass and then reproduce it fairly closely. If the US was implementing a genuine progressive scheme, this might be an effective strategy; however, since they are abandoning it for the time being it is equivalent to a strategy of doing nothing.

There are some legitimately good reasons this strategy has been adopted. Namely, given how integrated the Canadian and American economies are, having similar proposals in play will prevent a competitive disadvantage and allow both to and move towards a greener economy together in a synergistic manner.   There is a balance between distorting this relationship and between making progress on climate change; if we all always use this mantra of not giving our countries a competitive disadvantage then no progress will ever be made if we don't work together in unison. That said, there are many things one can do that give competitive advantages, not disadvantages, that we can implement while waiting (and fighting for) multilateral movement on carbon pricing schemes. Things such as feed-in-tariffs, subsidies for clean energy R&D or subsidies for increased consumer product efficiencies. These policies are all in the 'increasing competitiveness' column and while they could not qualify as a complete package (pricing carbon simply is an imperative component) they can make a lot of progress.

It may well be that location of solutions is not going to be in the international or even national domains, but in the domains of provinces and states. Consider BC, Ontario and California for example. BC managed to introduce the first genuine fee and dividend based scheme in the western hemisphere for genuinely raising the price of carbon on a moderate range (but certainly not all) of carbon commodities and reinvesting the money in various areas. When Dion ran with a similar proposal as his primary platform item federally, he was soundly beaten. Ontario has created North America's most aggressive feed-in-tarrif scheme which raises the value of clean energy investment and has resulted in several large European clean energy companies setting up their North American headquarters in Ontario. California voters have just voted not to repeal America's most comprehensive and multifaceted climate change bill. These examples give optimism that even if federal governments don't have the mandate or willpower for comprehensive legislation, more local governments do.

Regardless of the dangers of global warming, there are legitimate economic advantages to being one of the first to enter and lead in green tech. The simple reality is that increased energy demand and limited cheaply accessible oil supplies are going to make clean energy and energy efficient technologies increasingly viable in the medium and long term. The jurisdiction that gets infrastructure set up first will gain a competitive advantage at attracting investment and building a green economy that can be exported to other jurisdictions around the world. Currently many of the leaders are European (with Chinese manufacturing of, say, solar panels). However, the market is very young and one can hope that places like Ontario and California will reap many benefits from their first past the post advantages in North America.

The largest challenge of a going at it alone approach and having smaller jurisdictions like provinces or states come up with their own solution is having these movements coalesce into national movements strong enough to make a difference and strong enough to enforce carbon pricing like in BC in addition to incentive schemes like in Ontario. Bilateral and multilateral relations between smaller jurisdictions are important at building a larger movement. The relationship between Ontario and California are a great example of starting to build these kinds of bilateral relations, but there is little movement between provinces like Ontario and Alberta, or states like California and Texas. However examples like the Western Climate Initiative which have got a dozen or so Canadian provinces and American states signed on show hope of this kind of coalescing of smaller jurisdictions into relevant larger movements. Ultimately, to solve a problem of this magnitude will require not only national but international dedication. However, as these appear to be moving very slowly at best, we can focus on the smaller jurisdictions where some success is possible an attempt to have them coalesce into these larger movements.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

Share this post:

Tweet It! Facebook Add Feed Reddit! Digg It! Stumble Delicious Follow

Post a Comment

Frequent Topics: