British Columbia

Canada could meet emissions target without huge carbon tax: SFU professor

Professor Mark Jaccard with SFU's School of Resource and Environmental Management has written a new report detailing alternatives to carbon pricing in order to meet Canada's climate change commitments.

Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30% from 2005 levels by 2030

Emissions released from a smokestack near Trail, B.C. The province introduced its carbon tax in 2008. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A new report says Canada could meet its emissions target under the Paris climate agreement without a hefty carbon tax.

The carbon tax has been a contentious issue between the provinces and the federal government.

Recently, the federal government announced it will impose carbon pricing on provinces that don't find a way to regulate carbon emissions themselves.

Alberta and B.C. have adopted a carbon tax, while Ontario and Quebec have opted for a cap and trade policy.

Sill, many provinces — particularly Saskatchewan — have voiced strong opposition to the scheme.

Even B.C.'s much lauded 2008 carbon tax was only adopted after substantial debate.

Premier Christy Clark made and kept a campaign promise to freeze the tax since she came into office in 2011.

Simon Fraser University energy economist Mark Jaccard — the report's author — says Canada can by-pass the political battle over carbon pricing and still meet its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Proposed carbon price not politically tenable

Jaccard, one of the original architects of B.C.'s carbon pricing plan, said he was motivated to write the report because of the emphasis on carbon pricing as the only solution.

"Different organizations are saying to politicians the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to price carbon ... but what would the price actually be and is it politically tenable?"

In order to meet the Paris agreement, Jaccard calculated a national carbon tax would need to start at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide and eventually hit $200 per tonne in 2030.

In other words, B.C. residents would have pay an additional four cents per litre on gas every year for the next 14 years.

That, he said, would be politically unpopular.

Less political resistance

Jaccard suggests a modest carbon tax paired with other industry regulation would face less political resistance.

"A jurisdiction like California has avoided the [carbon tax] battle and kept moving forward with regulations like changing the vehicle fleet and electricity generation."

Regulation in industries like personal vehicle manufacturing, electricity, and public transit can be amended without great political opposition, Jaccard said.

One California example, he explained, is car manufacturers have to sell a certain proportion of low emission cars, or face penalties. 

Manufacturers who sell a lot can trade with others who sell less.

"The policy is almost as efficient as an emissions price."

Beyond carbon pricing

Matt Horne, associate director in B.C. of the Pembina Institute and a member of B.C.'s Climate Leadership Team, says the report is a good reminder to look beyond carbon pricing.

He acknowledged, for example, many critics evaluated the success of B.C.'s recent climate change plan based on whether or not the province increased the carbon tax — simplifying a complicated policy.

"The reality is that a meaningful climate plan is going to need a bunch of different pieces working together. There is a tendency to boil it down to shorthand which in some cases just focuses on the carbon price ... We have to look at a mix of carbon pricing and regulations."

The federal government is expected to meet with the provinces this fall to create a national climate strategy, including a national carbon pricing plan.

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled SFU prof on how Canada can meet its Paris commitments without carbon pricing