Conservatives' climate plan would do less, cost more, study argues

A new analysis of the Conservative Party's proposed climate plan concludes that its policies would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions than under current federal policies and leave Canada further away from meeting its international target for 2030.

Party dismisses report, says it was written to support 'pro-carbon tax agenda'

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announces his party's climate plan in Chelsea, Que., on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A new analysis of the Conservative Party's proposed climate plan concludes that its policies would lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions than current federal policies, and would leave Canada further away from meeting its emissions target for 2030.

"The plan would result in Canada missing the Paris target of 513 Mt in 2030 by 109 Mt, an increase of 30 Mt or 38 per cent from the current 2030 projection from Environment and Climate Change Canada," say the report's authors, David Sawyer and Seton Stiebert of Enviroeconomics.

"It is not reasonable to assume the plan, as currently outlined, is scalable to close the 2030 gap to Canada's Paris target."

Sawyer, an environmental economist, and Stiebert, an environmental engineer, prepared the analysis in partnership with Clean Prosperity, an organization that says it seeks to build support for "market-based" responses to climate change, such as pricing carbon.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released his party's climate platform three weeks ago.

'Technology, not taxes'

The Conservatives have long vowed to repeal the Liberal government's carbon levy on fuel and this week came out against the federal proposal for a clean fuel standard. While he would eliminate those policies, Scheer has promised to invest in green technology and a home retrofit tax credit — an approach Scheer has described as "technology, not taxes."

Sawyer and Stiebert estimate that repealing the national carbon tax on fuel would increase emissions by 13.5 megatonnes in 2022, while eliminating the clean fuel standard would increase emissions by 7.4 megatonnes.

The new technology investment fund proposed by the Conservatives would decrease emissions by 2.5 megatonnes, they said, while the tax credit would result in a decrease of roughly nine megatonnes. But Sawyer and Stiebert report that those reductions would come at a relatively high cost per tonne of emissions.

In terms of cost, the report's authors consider a few factors, including both the impact of repealing the federal carbon tax household rebate and the use of federal income tax revenue to support the home retrofit tax credit. When all such factors are taken into account, the authors argue that Scheer's plan would increase costs for Canadians — by between $187 per household (in provinces that have their own carbon pricing policies) and $295 per household (where the federal carbon tax 'backstop' is applied).

"This offers more proof that a carbon tax is the right way to address climate change," Michael Bernstein, the executive director of Clean Prosperity, said in a statement. "It's better for our economy, our small businesses, and the millions of households who already benefit from the carbon tax rebate."

Conservatives dismiss report as 'pro-carbon tax'

Brock Harrison, director of communications for Scheer, dismissed the report's findings.

"There are some people out there who believe that only carbon taxes can fight climate change. This specific group has never seen a carbon tax that was high enough, and have appeared to design this study to support their pro-carbon tax agenda," Harrison said, referring to Clean Prosperity.

"As for their study, it completely discounts the long-term benefits of incentivizing green innovation – both in terms of reducing emissions and the cost of reducing emissions. It's hard to take seriously any analysis that doesn't take this into account." 

The report does include analysis of the innovation fund and a short-term projection of its impact.

In an interview, Sawyer said innovation is important, but that the Conservative fund would be a relatively small contribution to the larger need for investment in clean technology. As well, Sawyer said, studies have shown that carbon pricing is the most effective incentive for spurring innovation.

Federal analysis issued in 2018 found that federal and provincial climate change policies released since 2015 were projected to reduce emissions by 200 megatonnes, but that a further 79 megatonnes needed to be accounted for.

The analysis released on Wednesday projects that the Conservative proposals would leave a larger gap — and the authors also question the feasibility and impact of the Conservative plan to seek credit for emissions reductions achieved in other countries. The Conservatives have suggested that Canada could negotiate to fund or assist other countries in reducing their emissions through energy exports or clean technology, with Canada receiving some credit for those reductions.

"Unfortunately, (this portion) of the plan would not be able to close this gap under any practical scenario," they write.


Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.