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10 Arguments for Carbon Pricing: ‘Don’t Throw Any Tool Out of the Toolbox’

Ian Britton/Freefoto

After a multi-year fight for political acceptance, carbon pricing is suddenly under attack from all sides of the political spectrum. Lyn Adamson, co-chair of Toronto-based Climate Fast and member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, has 10 reasons not to abandon a key tool in the climate action toolbox.

Anyone who is serious about climate action and climate solutions must absolutely support the carbon pricing fee and dividend approach. Here’s why.

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1. It’s a method of redistributing money from high carbon emitters to lower carbon emitters. Something like 70% of households [2] will get more back than the additional costs they incur because of the carbon price. Redistributing money is progressive, not regressive.

2. Carbon pricing is one of three main strategies endorsed by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, in what shecalls [3]the “three-legged stool”. The other two legs are regulations and investment. We won’t make progress on the climate emergency by knocking out one of the legs of the stool. Commissioner Dianne Saxe said carbon pricing was working in Ontario, and that fee and dividend is a valid alternative method to cap-and-trade, which was working [4] until the Ford government killed it off with Bill 4.

3. Grassroot activists have been working for eight years to achieve this one leg of the stool at the federal level, and it has finally been adopted by the Trudeau government. We all wish they would stop buying pipelines, end all fossil fuel subsidies, and invest more in renewables. They’re doing some of this, and we should push them for more! But to fight against the one definite win by Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other citizen lobbyists is cruel and self-defeating. Instead, advocate for the leg of the stool you want—rather than attacking the climate community’s biggest win, learn from and emulate the organized lobby that made it happen.

4. The Liberals are going to run with carbon pricing in their platform, and the Tories are going to fight it. Neither the New Democrats nor the Greens will form the next federal government, though their climate and carbon pricing policies will matter in ridings where they’re running strong. If you fight it, you help a political party whose leader has justwalked back [5]any commitment to meeting Canada’s already-inadequate targets under the Paris Agreement. We’ve seen the Doug Ford government trash a carbon “tax” that was being invested in hundreds of job-creating renewable projects, virtually all [6] of which have now been cancelled, after winning an election on rhetoric that vilified carbon pricing. Is that what you want for the rest of Canada?

5. Some critics of carbon pricing say it won’t make enough difference to be worth the effort. They often forget to mention that the price is meant to rise over time, and it’ll have an impact on investment decisions once the price signal is there. In Ontario, investing carbon price revenue in low-carbon projects had an immediate, incredibly positive impact at the community level.

6. Going right back to first principles—carbon pricing is no more or less than a way to put a price on pollution, to correct the mismatch between the things we need and want and the signals our economy sends. Suddenly we’re against that?

7. It’s important to listen to concerns about the impact of carbon pricing on people with very low incomes. There should be a program of assistance available to those who need immediate, monthly relief, rather than waiting for an income tax refund. That’s an improvement we can and should advocate for. But social justice advocates have to be careful about aligning with all-purpose carbon price opponents who just want to slow down or stop any policy that threatens fossil fuel profits.

8. What happens in Canada this year will truly affect the world. Other countries are watching to see if the federal government can successfully implement fee and dividend carbon pricing and not get kicked out of power. If Canada is successful, the strategy will spread—possibly even to the United States, where it’s one of the few approaches gaining support from both parties in Congress.

9. There are better and worse forms of carbon pricing and carbon trading, but it’s a mistake to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Carbon pricing sends a signal that carbon pollution cannot just be emitted for free. Yes, some large emitters are getting a break on their carbon fee, but as a larger proportion of the world’s economies adopt their own pricing systems, and tools like aborder tax adjustment [7]become a reality, those exemptions will disappear.

10. California is by no means doing everything right, but theyreached [8]their 2020 climate target in 2016. Do they need more ambitious targets? Yes. Did cap-and-trade help them make progress in cutting emissions? Yes, it did. Do they also need to do other things, like phase out oil and gas development [9]? Yes, they do—but that doesn’t make the carbon price a bad thing. It just means an emergency as big as climate change calls for a multi-pronged response, we need multiple tools in the toolbox, and we can’t afford to throw any of them away.

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "10 Arguments for Carbon Pricing: ‘Don’t Throw Any Tool Out of the Toolbox’"

#1 Comment By Bill Henderson On January 21, 2019 @ 3:52 PM

An emergency as big as climate change requires effective mitigation and carbon pricing is ineffectual, does not come close to reducing emissions at a scale now needed, and has wasted precious time, continues to waste precious time as pretend mitigation and – most importantly – keeps us from considering mitigation methods that could be effective.

With the Steffen et el ‘Hothouse Earth’ paper, with climate change now a life and death, humanity threatening emergency, with tipping points now surrounding us and effective mitigation needed urgently, the whole carbon pricing debate helps keep us in a frame where action continues to be perceived as just a tweak to our continuing BAU even though this is denial when effective mitigation must now be deep, systemic and disruptive. It helps keep us in the frame of expanding fossil fuel production, with pipelines and investment not in renewables but in new fossil infrastructure like LNG in BC.

It is now too late for any mitigation other than a regulated managed decline of fossil fuel production and use. Carbon pricing is part of the present framing that keeps us from even considering our last chance at effective mitigation.

Yes, the world is watching Canada, the world’s sixth largest fossil fuel producer; it is watching the Trudeau government waste our last opportunity to actually keep fossil fuels in the ground; it is watching as we lead on a path to 5C. It is watching our governing party and all of Canada’s governments ignore reality so that the economy ticks over this quarter, this year, this election cycle, because we stay in a frame where we supposedly can be a large fossil fuel producer, even expand production and still supposedly cut our emissions enough so that all we know and love, our children and their future, still stay safe from runaway climate change. The world is watching Canada lead in continuing to pretend, to continue to stay in denial, to continue to be a large part of the problem. The world is watching Canada continue to fail.

“If governments proved willing to impose carbon prices that were sufficiently high and affected a broad enough swath of the economy, those prices could make a real environmental difference. But political concerns have kept governments from doing so, resulting in carbon prices that are too low and too narrowly applied to meaningfully curb emissions. ”

“Maybe one day carbon pricing will be the best tool for fighting climate change. But the planet doesn’t have time to wait. To the extent that the carbon-pricing experiment lets policymakers and the public delude themselves that they are meaningfully addressing global warming, it’s not just ineffectual; it’s counterproductive. The time has come to acknowledge that this elegant solution isn’t solving the problem it was designed to solve. In the toughest environmental fight the world has ever faced, a good idea that isn’t working isn’t good enough.”
Jeffrey Ball in Foreign Policy

#2 Comment By John Stephenson On January 22, 2019 @ 11:45 AM

Ab-so-lute-ly !!! Don’t the lefties opposing carbon pricing realize the Big Fossils are laughing at them … all the way to the bank.

#3 Comment By Sharon Howarth On January 22, 2019 @ 7:37 PM

This is an EXCELLENT piece. Thank you very much