If there’s one thing that seems to have become clear about the debate on climate change in Canada, it’s that pricing carbon has to be the key policy aim. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is in the spotlight this week for declaring that Ottawa will impose a national carbon price, even against opposition from some premiers, led by Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.
But a report released this week by three researchers at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, intriguingly titled, Is Win-Win Possible: Can Canada’s Government Achieve Its Paris Commitment… and Get Re-Elected?, argues the tight focus on carbon pricing is wrongheaded.
The best known of the authors is Mark Jaccard, arguably Canada’s most prominent expert on the intersection between environmental policy and energy economics. Jaccard argues that pricing carbon—usually by taxing carbon dioxide emissions or by creating a “cap-and-trade” system under which companies buy and sell the right to release CO2 emissions—isn’t politically practical on its own.
Consider the pledge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made last fall at the United Nations climate summit in Paris to cut Canada’s emissions 30 per cent in a mere 14 years. To make good on it, Jaccard and his co-authors estimate Canada would need to set a $30 price per tonne of CO2, and then raise it every year until it hits $200 by 2030. They argue that experience in other jurisdictions—notably their home turf of British Columbia, which has a $30 per tonne carbon tax now—shows that trying to make this single mechanism do the heavy lifting in combatting climate change just carries too high a political price.
So they argue for regulatory options that experience shows more voters will accept, even though many economists and climate change activists regard these sorts of regulations as a clumsy, inefficient alternative to pricing carbon. In this interview, Jaccard starts out talking about the basic policy tools available to curb emissions, and goes on to advocate for a mix that would lean heavily on regulations like requiring a lot more zero-emissions cars and trucks on a road a lot sooner.