Canada’s newly elected, very liberal and hugely popular leader spoke of climate action last week in Vancouver. Next stop: Washington.
Justin Trudeau takes climate seriously. He made big campaign promises to finally move Canada toward sustainable energy. In his first 100 days as Canada’s national leader, Trudeau and his party have begun work to keep those promises. Central to that effort will be a national plan to put a price on carbon pollution.
Mr. Trudeau headlined the GLOBE 2016 Conference & Innovation Expo, which this year is positioned as a conversation about the next steps for countries to fulfill the commitments made last December at COP21 in Paris.
His keynote speech reveals both his newness in office and the formidable political task that lies ahead of him.
Since Justin Trudeau’s election last fall his government’s work on climate action has been mostly discussion. The parties at the table apparently have not yet agreed on any concrete course of action that Mr. Trudeau could discuss openly in Vancouver.
Even a high-level agreement will take time. Canada’s provinces have considerable autonomy, and their governments range from far left to far right leaning.
Some provinces have already taken steps. British Columbia already has a carbon tax, which a recent study showed has reduced emissions by 5 to 15 percent with “negligible effects on aggregate economic performance.” Carbon pricing enjoys business and popular support, in part because all CD $1.2 billion in carbon taxes is returned in the form of income tax reductions.
Four other provinces have carbon pricing policies in place or in progress. Surprisingly, Alberta is one of them. The province that is home to the infamous oil sands will start taxing carbon in 2017. That leaves five provinces and three territories to bring on board, to fulfill the promise of a Canada-wide carbon market.
To an audience of about 1000 conference delegates from 50 countries, Trudeau said, “You will hear from government leaders who for too long have worked alone without the support of the federal government. I’m certain there is one thing about which we all agree. Everyone here knows we don’t have to make a choice between a strong economy and clean environment. It’s not actually a choice, and never has been.”
Trudeau’s conservative predecessor strongly supported oil sands extraction. The collapse of global oil prices has sent oil sands economics plunging, and crippled Canada’s economy in the process. (It also greatly reduced the effectiveness of BC’s carbon tax.)
“In Ottawa, ten years of opportunity were squandered. We failed to capture our share of this new marketplace. We had a government that saw economic growth and environmental health as competing interests, rather than vital components in a single engine of innovation. It’s now way past time to get moving,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr. Trudeau is by no means forsaking the fossil fuels beneath Canada’s soil. While he calls for a transition to clean energy, he repeatedly refers to traditional fuels as a bridge as well as a valuable, exportable commodity.
“We must continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to this low carbon economy. The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one. We need both to reach our goal,” Mr. Trudeau said. “And as we continue to ensure that there is a market for our natural resources, our deepening commitment to a cleaner future will be a valuable advantage. Indeed, the world needs the solutions we will create to develop traditional resources in a way that is both cleaner and more efficient. To take our place in the front ranks of this new economy, we need to pull together our best minds and we must address the immediate problem of today’s tough economy even as we make smart investments for the long-term.”
The GLOBE conference on Wednesday was just one stop in Prime Minister Trudeau’s week in the west. He convened a meeting of First Ministers there on Monday. On Tuesday he spoke at the launch of Smart Prosperity, a coalition of businesses and environmental groups who support a transition to a lower-energy economy in Canada. In each of these events, the Prime Minister’s number one topic has been climate change.
All of this talking leads up to an official visit to the White House today. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a major tool to comply with Paris commitments, is under attack by conservatives. Just as one new EPA rule cleared the courts, a larger one has been thrown into legal limbo, perhaps until a deadlocked Congress approves a Supreme Court appointee to replace the late Justice Scalia.
A carbon tax like British Columbia’s would, ironically, replace the Clean Power Plan, according to experts including MIT energy economist Christopher Knittel.
When asked whether the election of Donald Trump would undo the accomplishments at the Paris climate talks, Trudeau quipped, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about politics, it’s not to answer hypotheticals.”
Nicolas Chapuis, French Ambassador to Canada, said following the Trudeau keynote, “Canadian leaders thought climate was not an election issue, but last year it was. The same will happen in US.”