Liberals can’t have it both ways on Canada’s climate targets

Putting a price on carbon pollution has become the paradigm of climate policy. It's widely considered a catalyst for low-carbon innovation and the shift away from fossil fuel dependency. Since taking power in late 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has held the idea as a central policy commitment.
 
On Jan. 15, the Liberals introduced federal carbon pricing legislation in the House of Commons. If the legislation is passed, Canada will have a price on carbon in every jurisdiction across the country. But it’s become increasingly clear that this isn’t enough to meet our climate targets. 
 
Critics of the Liberals' bill, including Green Party leader Elizabeth May, have claimed the plan isn’t aggressive enough to help Canada meet its 2030 Paris Agreement commitments. 
 
The Trudeau government itself has already acknowledged Canada will fall short of its 2030 Paris Agreement commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-2005 levels. 
 
With the United States lacking any kind of pricing legislation on carbon pollution, industrial producers will have an edge on Canadian companies vying for the same markets. As a result, concerns over industry profitability and competition with the United States have been prioritized over environmental protection and Canada’s climate targets. 
 
May claims the Liberals' plan weakens regulations for industrial producers of oil and gas. Rather than directly taxing fuel purchase, the legislation averages carbon emissions across industries. Companies below the average industry emissions are rewarded and those above aren’t.
 
The legislation has drawn criticism for good reason. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “the highest effective carbon prices in most OECD countries in 2012 were already twice as high as the highest effective price that is proposed for Canada in 2022.” 
 
In the OECD’s recent environmental assessment of Canada, it warns that “without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the [Alberta’s] oil sands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada’s climate mitigation targets.”  
Despite that fact, last summer Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr led a delegation to China to promote foreign investment in the oil sands. He proclaimed Canada is “open for business” in a keynote speech delivered at the Canadian embassy in Beijing.
 
Canada is a resource-based economy with a dependency on its oil and gas sectors. That’s a reality. But if Canada is going to reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets, it not only needs a more effective and continually increasing price on carbon, it also needs a scale-back of exploration and expansion of Alberta’s oil sands. The Liberals can’t have it both ways on Canada’s climate targets.
 
Iain is one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. He’s a third-year History student.

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