Editorial: Coming clean

One coherent and viable countrywide policy is the only responsible way to tackle climate change.

Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, Canada committed to bringing emissions of greenhouse gases 5.2% under 1990 levels by 2012. We’ve done nothing of the sort. By 2005, levels were 33% above the Kyoto commitment.

The provinces and the federal government diverge wildly on how best to achieve our Kyoto targets — if at all. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper favours dropping Kyoto in favour of a “made-in-Canada” solution that pledges dramatic reductions — by 2050. Alberta recently proposed a go-slow policy: allow emissions to continue rising until 2020, but get rates of greenhouse gases 14% below 2005 levels by 2050. Others, such as Ontario, advocate spending to build up transit and a “green” economy, and set a target of emissions 15% below 1990 levels by 2020.

In short, the only thing clear on this issue is that nothing’s clear — at least when it comes to governments setting coherent policy. But the time for dithering is running out. Legislation passed in December by the U.S. Congress requires that fuel sold to the U.S. federal government — one of the largest consumers of energy stateside — maintain the same carbon content as conventional petroleum. As it is currently produced, oilsands crude may not be acceptable — forcing producers to consider costly retrofits to their operations.

This could be a big shock. But with little immediate economic incentive to change, it’s not surprising Canadians will continue to practice business as usual. In light of this, a new report from the Conference Board of Canada argues in favour of a fair price for carbon, on the logic that a predictable pricing mechanism would allow businesses and consumers to build the costs into their decision-making. And on Feb. 6, in a submission to Parliament, the head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Thomas D’Aquino, called for a clear, Canada-wide consensus on how to tackle climate change — one that includes mechanisms around the appropriate pricing of carbon. “Business accepts that there is a price to pay for greenhouse-gas emissions,” he said. To achieve this, D’Aquino proposed emissions trading, environmental taxation — or some combination of the two.

The alternative — doing nothing — is untenable. So we join D’Aquino in calling for a viable and coherent Canada-wide policy on emissions reduction — one that includes mechanisms to fairly price carbon.