Trudeau's carbon price plan won't raise B.C. tax until 2021

The federal carbon pricing scheme announced today is a positive step, say environment groups, but won't curb emissions enough to meet Canada's Paris commitment.

Federally-imposed price on carbon won't curb emissions enough to meet Canada's Paris commitment, say experts

Canada committed to a 30 per cent reduction of 2005 levels by 2030 in the Paris agreement.

Trudeau's new carbon pricing scheme is being called a "sledgehammer" by Conservatives and a "betrayal" by Saskatchewan's premier — objections to a federal deadline, announced today, that provinces must put a $10 per tonne price on carbon emissions by 2018.

But in B.C., where the carbon tax is already three times that level, the plan is drawing fire from some environmentalists not for asking too much, but too little.

"Our feeling here is sort of a resounding meh," said Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee in Vancouver.

"This really only brings other provinces along at a level that frankly is really disappointing."

The proposed price on carbon under the federal plan would start at $10 per tonne and rise by $10 each year to $50 per tonne in 2022.

That means B.C., which already has the highest price on carbon at $30 per tonne, won't have to raise its tax until 2021.

"If we know that the carbon price isn't going to be raised for the next five years, it absolutely will lead to our emissions rising," said McCartney.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has resisted calls to raise the tax, including from her own advisors, but has pledged to move in step with a national program.

"When everybody catches up, that's when we're going to move forward together," said Clark on CBC Radio's The House on Saturday.

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, seen here with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007, brought in a $10 per tonne carbon tax in 2008. (The Canadian Press)

'Big positive'

Still, after years of federal foot-dragging, putting a pan-Canadian price on carbon is being heralded as "big, positive news" by the Pembina Institute, another environmental watchdog.

"Ideally, we would like to see the federal government have moved a bit faster," said associate B.C. director Matt Horne.

"At the same time, what they've announced today pushes every province a little bit further on carbon pricing and that is a positive."

The nationwide floor price on carbon will also help companies plan if they are considering investments, said Horne — including Malaysian-owned energy giant Petronas, whose LNG terminal was just approved with conditions by the federal government.

"I would expect Petronas would take a look at this new carbon price schedule as part of the overall project review they've committed to doing," said Horne.

Catherine McKenna, left, federal minister of environment and climate change, announces the approval of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project at the Sea Island Coast Guard base, in Richmond, B.C., as Premier Christy Clark looks on. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

$200 per tonne?

However, the federal carbon price — even at $50 per tonne — isn't high enough to match estimates of what's needed for Canada to meet its Paris commitment of lowering emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030.

A report last month by SFU economist Mark Jaccard said the price on carbon would have to rise to $200 per tonne by 2030 to meet that commitment, if Canada relied on emissions pricing alone.

Horne agrees this carbon price alone isn't enough to meet the Paris commitment, but he hopes the government will also be announcing stronger regulations to curb emissions.

"Today's announcement is, I think, raising expectations that we could have a plan that gets on track for the targets."

McCartney of the Wilderness Committee is less hopeful that what's politically possible will also be enough.

"This conversation is so far from where the scientific reality of where climate change is at right now."

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