The annual carbon tax tantrum
Well, it’s April, so you know what that means — it’s time for another episode of the great Canadian carbon tax tantrum.
It’s true that Pierre Poilievre has made wailing about carbon pricing more of a year-round behaviour, but the price hike on April 1 is always a key date on the calendar. An annoying annual ritual when climate advocates are tipped onto the defensive, no matter how convinced they are that pricing can deliver deep carbon cuts. Public debate becomes consumed with the cost of changing course, ignoring the costs of the course we’re on.
This year, Canada’s carbon price rose to $65 per tonne. That’s getting sizable even if it’s lower than the going rate in Norway (about $100) and less than half of Sweden’s ($156). The current world leader is Uruguay, a country that charges $180, already well above Canada’s plan for $170 by the end of the decade.
We drive the most-polluting vehicles in the world and rank only behind Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for CO2 spew per capita. Climate casualties are mounting and yet, every year, we are subjected to a spasm of political petulance, parsing whether rebates (“Climate Action Incentive Payments”) are big enough to offset the costs for only the poorest or most or just some Canadians.
And this year, the detractors really spit the dummy, hurling around a selective reading of a report by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO). You will have seen the headlines: a “senseless money grab,” railed the National Post; “more pain at the pump” declared CTV; the Toronto Sun blared: “Only April Fools believe carbon tax hike won't cost more.”
The extra outburst this year comes from a projection by the PBO that — if you ignore the economic impacts of climate change and you hypothesize an imaginary world without climate policy — the carbon price and rebate system may be a “net cost” to households … by 2030.
Even then, the rebates will be worth more than most households pay in carbon pricing, says the PBO. The “net cost” projection results from a separate exercise aimed at predicting the broader economic future.
It all gets a bit complicated but given the hullabaloo, it’s worth unpacking. The PBO exercise makes at least three sketchy assumptions: there would be no climate programs to replace carbon pricing, no economic benefits from climate action and, crucially, it “does not attempt to account for the economic and environmental costs of climate change.”
An odd thing to leave off the accounts for a climate policy. Especially since the PBO itself released just such an accounting six months ago.
“Our analysis shows that climate change has — and will continue — to negatively impact the Canadian economy,” said Yves Giroux, parliamentary budget officer when he released that report last November.
Climate impacts have already depressed the Canadian economy, the economic impacts will continue to deepen and, without increasingly aggressive action, the costs will climb even higher, said the PBO at the time: “If climate policies remain closer to the status quo, the long-term impact of climate change on the Canadian economy will be larger.”
Economic impacts do move some minds, but they mask the human tragedies. We might ask the residents of Lytton, B.C. about impacts. Except that, nearly two years after it burned to the ground, Lytton still has no residents. Rebuilding has yet to begin. (Tyler Olsen published a tremendous article on the situation last week, quite an insight into the state of climate preparedness and “resiliency.”)
So maybe stick to sterile dollar figures for a moment. Is it still too soon to mention the $9-billion Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016? How about $4 billion from Fiona in Atlantic Canada or $17 billion for the 2021 juggernaut of heat dome, fires and floods in B.C.?
“By 2050, losses could rise to $100 billion and wipe out half a million jobs,” according to Don Drummond, TD’s former chief economist and the Canadian Climate Institute’s Sarah Miller.
“We underestimate the economic benefits of proactive climate policy,” they wrote. Instead, we “debate the costs of action rather than the costs of inaction.”
And let’s not limit our calculations to just what can be calculated. Despite the actuaries’ best efforts, lives and lives destroyed don’t track onto a balance sheet. Whether Canadian lives or those of people in East Africa, or Pakistan or island states, a growing number of impacts are simply, horrifically incalculable.
RBC shuts out Indigenous leaders
Indigenous leaders and climate advocates say they were met with the “highest insult” at RBC's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, reports John Woodside. RBC physically blocked leaders (despite holding passes to attend) like Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks and environmental justice advocate Roishetta Ozane from Louisiana, shunting them to a side room.
RBC shareholders rejected resolutions to respect the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples and to set 2030 targets for reducing absolute greenhouse gas emissions for oil, gas and utility clients.
Meanwhile, it turns out RBC helped arrange US$5.4 billion of “sustainability-linked” financing for a coal mine operator. RBC’s sustainability client is RWE, the controversial German coal miner demolishing two German villages where Greta Thunberg was arrested in January, reports Global News.
Last weekend, protesters rallied at RBC branches and university campuses across the country. RBC and other fossil funders have no place on our campus, wrote Lea Anderson and Jaden L. Phillips.
Elsewhere in Canada’s National Observer
Is “renewable” natural gas a climate solution — or masterful greenwashing? Marc Fawcett-Atkinson looked into gas company claims about biomethane and the premiums they charge for “renewable” natural gas. The goal isn’t to tackle climate change, one critic told Marc, but to preserve the fossil-fuelled business model in the face of electrification.
The Liberals are losing the carbon tax communication war: “They probably should have told Canadians that, yes, there would be a cost upfront associated with tackling climate change,” writes Max Fawcett. “One that will fall disproportionately on the wealthiest Canadians. And rather than pretending there would be no financial pain, they should have talked far more about the various forms of gain: new programs to reduce emissions, new opportunities for jobs and economic growth, and new hope for their kids and grandkids.”
Feds step into the quiet energy conflict bubbling in Atlantic Canada: The federal budget cut Newfoundland and Labrador out of the Atlantic Loop — a project to link the power grids of provinces on the East Coast.
Turn Competition Act into a greenwashing-fighting machine: The feds are reviewing Canada's Competition Act. With an overhaul, it could become a tool to tackle greenwashing corporations.
“The Canadian government should set standards and enforce against greenwashing, not only for the good of consumers and the planet, but also so our marketplace is not distorted by false or confusing green claims,” said Catherine McKenna.
Greens took a hit in Prince Edward Island election: The Green Party was the official Opposition heading into this week’s provincial election but lost six seats and now hold only two, while the provincial liberals took three. The Progressive Conservatives returned to power — a resounding victory in 22 of the province’s 27 ridings. The Greens still received a fair chunk of the popular vote: 21.6 per cent, compared to the Liberals' 17.2 per cent.
Alberta delayed emergency response declaration for a month after the oilsands tailings leak — until after First Nations chiefs in the area went public. "The fact that the province waited over a month before initiating its emergency response is not surprising at all," said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. "We are used to the provincial government letting us down.
A fossil-fuelled COP
Two important features this week about the UN climate summit being held in Dubai this year.
“The person with the most influence over global warming this year is also the boss of one of the world’s biggest polluters,” writes Akshat Rathi in his extensive profile of Sultan Al Jaber. Al Jaber is both CEO of the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company, Adnoc, and president of COP28. Bloomberg is giving free access to the story.
Thanks to my colleagues @aaronrutkoff @BenBartenstein @A_DiPaola17 @zainabfattah, the more than four dozens sources we spoke to for this story, and the many people at @business who made the story happen.— Akshat Rathi (@AkshatRathi) April 4, 2023
Thank you for reading. Here's a free-to-read link. https://t.co/8bSfoZdlp6
And The Guardian revealed the UAE has “the third biggest net zero-busting plans for oil and gas expansion in the world.”
“Sultan Al Jaber is overseeing expansion to produce oil and gas equivalent to 7.5 billion barrels of oil, according to new data, 90 per cent of which would have to remain in the ground to meet the net-zero scenario set out by the International Energy Agency."
Heat pumps FTW
A deep dive into heat pumps turned up some surprising news. Marco Chown Oved reports heat pumps outsold natural gas furnaces in 2021 and sales were neck-and-neck last year.
We went deep into #heatpumps and found out they became the #1 type of heating technology in Canada in 2021, when they surpassed natural gas furnaces pic.twitter.com/OcbLrI0tyX— Marco Chown Oved (@MarcoOved) April 4, 2023
More solar schools for Edmonton
The public board voted to cut climate pollution 45 per cent from Edmonton schools within 12 years, reports CBC Edmonton.
☀️🔌 Solar panels save Alberta's second-largest public school division $650,000 a year, according to a new report.— Clean Energy Canada (@cleanenergycan) April 4, 2023
"The potential cost-savings alone make a good case for switching to renewables," said @ThibaultBen.#ABpoli @EPSBNewshttps://t.co/nZrxk3wRqB
How the climate movement learned to win
I’ll leave you with a special report on the evolution of the U.S. climate movement. Eli Stokols is a White House correspondent for POLITICO. He tours us through the moments of reckoning and changes to organizing and strategy that led from impotence to power.
“It required … a ‘sea change’ in public attitudes spurred by an equally dramatic change in strategy from the environmental movement itself.
“It also required a mobilization by green groups, their donors, activists and elected officials that didn’t occur a decade earlier. It required a broader movement, a better policy and firmer grasp of what it would take to win in Washington.
“And it required a campaign.”