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Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna has confirmed that the free ride for Canada's climate-polluting industries will legally come to an end.
The federal government is ready to force polluters to pay for their carbon emissions and will introduce a new law — as planned — in 2018 to achieve that goal, said a spokeswoman for McKenna.
“We’ve been very clear that there needs to be a price on carbon across Canada in 2018 and we will be introducing legislation to make that a legal requirement,” Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers told National Observer on Nov. 23. “Many provinces and territories already have systems in place or are working hard to adopt them ahead of that deadline.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provoked both applause and outrage when he first announced the policy last year, including Ottawa's intention to intervene if provinces don't come up with their own polluter-pay schemes by the 2018 deadline.
"There is no hiding from climate change. It is real and it is everywhere," he told the House of Commons on Oct. 3, 2016. "We cannot undo the last 10 years of inaction. What we can do is make a real and honest effort – today and every day – to protect the health of our environment, and with it, the health of all Canadians."
Trudeau's comments about inaction over the previous 10 years were inaccurate. The former Harper government introduced a series of measures to set legally-binding standards in specific areas such as coal-fired power plants, as well as fuels for motor vehicles.
That administration was criticized, however, for failing to implement broad policies against carbon emissions and avoiding a crackdown on pollution from the oil and gas industry. Trudeau's plans to impose a minimum price on carbon would be the first national, economy-wide effort in Canada.
Provincial action slow but steady
In the wake of Trudeau's challenge and a December 2016 meeting with premiers, the provinces have started, one-by-one, to introduce their own emissions plans. Many took centre stage at a recent international climate change summit in Bonn, Germany to demonstrate what they're doing to ensure polluters pay, including Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
Canada’s three most populous provinces, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, have all introduced or implemented systems — either a carbon tax, or a cap and trade system — to address climate change, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has imposed a legal limit on pollution from the oilsands, the country's fasting growing source of carbon emissions, to slow down damage to the atmosphere from Canadian industrial sources.
A noticeable exception in Saskatchewan, which has promised to oppose federal efforts to tax carbon pollution to protect its oil and gas sector.
Here are some highlights by environment ministers who attended the Bonn climate talks:
Chris Ballard gives Americans some advice
In Bonn, Ontario Environment Minister Chris Ballard said his own government was able to offer some advice to U.S. jurisdictions struggling to tackle climate change in partnership with a federal government, led by President Donald Trump, that doesn't see the issue as a priority.
He noted that Ontario has raised more than $1.5 billion from its cap and trade system and by law, must invest "every penny" in initiatives to reduce or prevent climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
“We want to spread the word that you don’t need a strong federal partner (to take action on climate change)," Ballard told National Observer. "In Canada, as you know, we didn’t have a strong federal partner when we were starting out, so we looked to Quebec, we looked to California — the Western Climate Initiative — to inform us and we want to pave that forward."
Quebec has already been working with California on a joint cap and trade system, while Ontario will link its own cap and trade system with the other two jurisdictions in 2018.
Cap and trade is the system that the U.S. and Canada successfully used to combat acid rain. Governments first set a "cap" or limit on the amount of pollution allowed and reduce the cap over time. Polluting companies then have to pay for every tonne of pollution by buying certified permits at a price that is set by market supply and demand. Companies that innovate and reduce their emissions earn the right to sell permits and make money, while the others are required to pay.
Ballard also said that many Americans sought his counsel during the conference, and he told them not to fear taking climate action independent of the White House.
"You can work together at a subnational level and get an awful lot of good things done," he explained. "It would be far better if you had a strong federal presence at the table, but I think we’re living proof in Quebec, in Ontario and B.C. and others that you can go it alone if you have to. So I’m delighted to meet with American representatives.”
Isabelle Melançon says Quebec shook things up
Like Ballard, Quebec Environment Minister Isabelle Melançon had only been on the job for a few weeks following a recent provincial cabinet shuffle. But she said she felt privileged to represent Quebec in Bonn as she soaked in admiration for her jurisdiction's track record in introducing climate change policies and systems.
China even asked for Quebec's advice, she told National Observer, inviting her to address a crowd gathered for the Chinese Carbon Market Day event in Bonn, which may foreshadow the country's anticipated intorduction of its own cap and trade system.
"I was very, very, privileged to represent the Quebec government on a file as important as climate change," Melançon said in an interview at the end of her trip to Bonn.
À l'invitation du Département des changements climatiques (CNDR) de la Chine, j'ai été conviée à prendre la parole lors de la cérémonie d'ouverture du Chinese Carbon Market Day, l'événement phare des activités organisées par le gouvernement chinois à l'occasion de la #COP23 pic.twitter.com/IitOjVLYu9— Isabelle Melançon (@Isamelancon) November 14, 2017
Representing a jurisdiction of about eight million people, Melançon said she was impressed to see so many different international players turning to Quebec for advice. She said others are following Quebec's example and the province is ahead of the curve as the rest of the world starts to move toward a low carbon economy.
"We are assuming leadership," she said. "We’re not the biggest nation in the world, but when we see how much we’ve shaken things up, it’s incredible."
Quebec has also faced some criticism in recent days following a report in Montreal's daily newspaper, Le Devoir, that it was planning to expand an existing program in support of fossil fuel exploration. But the province, with its rich hydroelectric reserves, remains one of the examples that other jurisdictions turn to for low carbon electricity strategy.
Melançon added that she had other high-level meetings scheduled during the conference. And although some scheduling problems interfered with her efforts to confirm a meeting with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, the two politicians managed have an impromptu lunch in a cafeteria at the Bonn summit.
Brown expressed some openness to joining California and Quebec's cap and trade network, as did Gov. Jay Inslee from Washington state.
Inslee also pointed out that more continental action on climate change should be expected following U.S. mid-term elections, which saw new governors elected in Virginia and New Jersey with promises to strengthen their states' environmental policies.
Meantime, back in Quebec, Melançon said the conference demonstrated that Quebec would be recognized as a pioneer in climate policy that helped set the global agenda.
A 'cautious approach' in Nova Scotia, says Iain Rankin
Hailing from Nova Scotia, Iain Rankin is another newly-minted environment minister who recently took over his portfolio and discussed the possibility of bringing his province into the carbon market. Nova Scotia has already introduced its own cap and trade legislation, and is now deciding whether to link it with the larger market.
“We made our legislation specifically to be flexible in case we do want to link… so we’re taking that cautious approach as we develop our regulations, so indeed that would be an option," Rankin told National Observer.
"Nova Scotia has been a leader in reducing greenhouse gases. we’ve already reduced by the target, which is 30 per cent from 2005 levels and that’s primarily due to a hard cap that we have in our electricity sector. But our cap and trade system will complement that policy and we’ll be able to drive emissions down further.”
Nova Scotia remains one of four provinces in Canada still seeking to phase out its coal-fired power plants. It plans to do this, Rankin explained, by shifting its electric power mix to more renewable sources of energy.
'We're not going to burn it all,' says George Heyman
British Columbia Environment Minister George Heyman spoke to National Observer in Bonn about what it would take to shift producers and consumers away from fossil fuels in the years to come.
“There’s no question — given that we have enough fossil fuel reserves in the ground to take us through a couple of centuries — that we’re not going to burn it all," he said. "But we won't need to as we develop new forms of renewable energy. Certainly, we’re not going to extract all the fossil fuels in the ground, but we’re also going to be reliant on fossil fuels for quite some time.
"So we’re learning here from other jurisdictions that are studying lower carbon fuel standards (like British Columbia's) to ensure that the fossil fuels we burn are lower in carbon and we’re burning them more efficiently as we transition to practical renewable energy solutions that keep our economies supporting people.”
In recent years, B.C.'s former Liberal government had touted an emissions-heavy liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a market for growth, but Heyman noted that the market has since dictated otherwise. Now that LNG prices have plummeted, he said B.C. will likely find another way to supply responsible, emissions-light natural gas to parts of the world where it will be needed "for some period of time in the future."
The challenge for B.C. now, added Heyman, is to reduce emissions across all sectors, including in transportation and buildings and to ensure that the existing gas sector "is as clean as possible." That doesn't mean shutting off "the taps" tomorrow, he explained, but it does mean supporting the renewable energy sector as much as possible.
"I think the point is to accelerate the transition to sustainable renewable energy sources not just in British Columbia, but around the world; to trade technologies with each other, to support each other so that we can keep warming to below two degrees and ensure that we don’t find ourselves in the kind of economic crisis that we’ll face if we do nothing.”
The province will also keep the door open to joining a larger cap and trade market to complement its existing carbon tax, he confirmed.
“B.C. has had a carbon tax pricing since 2008," said Heyman. "British Columbia industry and families are used to that (and) we’ve committed to raising it. But the two systems aren’t incompatible. We’re not ruling anything out. But the important thing is that they achieve the same result which is to put a price on carbon and find ways to reduce emissions. That’s what we’re doing in B.C., but that doesn’t mean we can’t work with and won’t work with jurisdictions like Ontario, Quebec and California that are exploring a cap and trade system.”