Mr. Moe’s carbon tax bait-and-switch

If there was any silver lining for those concerned with climate change in yesterday’s carbon tax/monster truck rally that rolled through Regina, it was the degree to which Premier Scott Moe and even some of the demonstrators went out of their way to concede the realities of climate change and the need to address them.

In the lead-up to the rally on Wednesday, Mr. Moe wrote: “Our government believes we need to take meaningful action to combat man-made climate change. But a carbon tax doesn’t do that.”

Similarly, addressing the demonstrators yesterday, Mr. Moe stated: “In Saskatchewan, we accept that climate change is happening and we even accept that humans are contributing to that. What we don’t accept is that a carbon tax is in any way an effective way to actually deal with that” [emphasis added].

Identifying the most effective ways of reducing our GHG emissions in Saskatchewan would actually be a useful debate. Certainly, there are legitimate arguments against the efficacy of a carbon tax, particularly if it is the sole policy response to carbon mitigation. However, whenever pressed on what his government would do to address climate change in lieu of a carbon tax, Mr. Moe immediately pivots to his Prairie Resilience plan: “Our own comprehensive, innovative climate change plan,” as he characterizes it. Unfortunately, the government too often gets away with gesturing toward the plan without any actual interrogation of it.

So, what would meaningful climate action in Saskatchewan look like? And does this plan resemble it?

This shouldn’t be difficult to deduce: it’s simple math. Where are our GHG emissions right now, and where do they need to be?

Saskatchewan currently produces about 75 to 76 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Since 2005, our emissions have increased by 11%, or 7 megatonnes.

To reach the Paris targets of cutting emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, Saskatchewan needs to reduce its emission output to 48 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030.

To reach the revised IPCC targets of 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, Saskatchewan would need to reduce its GHG emission output to 38 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030.

What does Mr. Moe’s Prairie Resilience promise? If you set aside the wishful thinking that the federal government will grant us 12.5 million tonnes of carbon credits for carbon sequestering agricultural practices but won’t knock us for carbon-producing agricultural practicesthe plan gets us a reduction to 61 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030. Obviously, this is nowhere near where we need to be and cannot be characterized as “meaningful climate action” by any measure.

It may very well be that the federal carbon tax as currently constituted is an ineffective means to adequately address climate change. But the Saskatchewan government’s plan appears equally ineffective at getting us to where we need to be.

Many of us would welcome a robust debate on what meaningful climate action should actually look like in Saskatchewan. But it appears the debate Mr. Moe would prefer is over whose half-measures are more half-baked.

Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

One comment

  1. Yes, Simon. How we address the climate crisis will have a truly massive impact on our lives for centuries to come – a far bigger impact than any of the other things, good and bad, that politicians habitually talk about. And yet we have an almost-total policy vacuum.

    Actually you’re being too generous to the Moe administration:
    It is difficult to see how “Prairie Resilience” can achieve reductions as high as 15Mt/yr. If SaskPower are permitted to stay on course with their (headed in the right direction but seriously inadequate) plans, then they will achieve about 6Mt. It is possible that the new regulations on fugitive emissions will achieve as much as 4Mt CO2 equivalent, but we will never know one way or the other because there is no plan for proper monitoring. As for the output-based carbon pricing for heavy industry, any savings there will be more than swallowed up by expansion of the potash industry. I’d say Prairie Resilience can maybe cut 10Mt/yr if we are very lucky.

    More importantly, you are underestimating the size of the task:
    The IPCC recommendation of 45% reduction by 2030 is for the world economy as a whole. Low-income countries are not generally in a position to achieve that sort of reduction, and newly-industrialising ones cannot do so without stranding massive amounts of recently-built assets. Wealthy industrialised jurisdictions therefore have a responsibility to go substantially beyond 45%. This is only fair – we in the wealthy world have created the problem, so it is our responsibility first to address it. It’s just a matter of international justice, of the sort which is recognised (at least as lipservice) in every recent UNFCCC agreement. For example, the Paris agreement includes the following:
    “This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.” (Article 2.2)
    “Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.” (Article 4.4)
    Instead of talking about 45%, let’s set a target of 60% and figure out what we need to do to get there. (It will almost certainly mean smashing some modern economic idols but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.)

    The size of the challenge is such that no one measure will ever be adequate, and that a wide range of measures – both regulatory and fiscal – is needed. Regulatory measures work best in certain areas of the economy – for example government could require that electricity generation be carbon-neutral by, say, 2035, with a series of intermediate targets which SaskPower is required to meet. In other areas, regulation becomes intrusive and bureaucratically expensive – how do you ensure that everyone retrofits their home to the best energy standards possible by any given date? – how do you ensure that people en masse shift rapidly to low-carbon or preferably zero-carbon transport options? Then for heavy industry, it would be perfectly possible to regulate for tough emissions standards for new plant, but not so easy for old plant built in the good-old-NDP-days of cheap gas and cheap electricity (or for recent plant built in the continuing absence of any climate or energy efficiency test in the approval process).

    So I would argue for intelligent regulation wherever it is possible, but that regulation needs to be backed up with pollution pricing in the areas where regulation just won’t work.

    The question which then arises is how to devise both the pricing mechanism and the plans for the revenue in a way which is socially positive. That needs to be discussed in depth. But it can only make sense in the context of a larger plan in which different measures support each other.

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