Equipped with neither a carbon price nor meaningful regulation, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s proposed climate plan would ultimately find Canada’s emissions 100 megatonnes higher by 2030 than they would be under the Liberal Party’s existing strategy, writes climate and sustainability expert Mark Jaccard.
Released in mid-June, the Conservative plan is long on “lists of activities and programs that are either silent on policy or suggest that non-compulsory policies, like information campaigns or subsidies, will cause significant reductions—which is not the case,” Jaccard says, in a recent post for Policy Options.
Absent in the document are equivalents of both the Liberal government’s backstop price on carbon, currently pegged at C$20 per tonne CO2 emitted, and slated to hit $50 in 2022 in provinces and territories that don’t set their own programs, and its Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS), which “applies the backstop carbon price to a portion of the emissions from trade-exposed industries like steel, cement, aluminum, chemicals, oil and gas, metals, and pulp and paper.”
Jaccard describes the stripping away of the backstop carbon price as a categorical mistake: “unless the removed carbon price is replaced with regulations that require increased adoption of technologies like the zero-emission vehicle mandate of Quebec and B.C., such GHG-reducing actions would decline, and emissions would rise.”
The Conservatives insist they will hold heavy industry to account for excess emissions by requiring investments in a new Green Investment Standards Certificate Program. But it’s “impossible to estimate with confidence whether this program would reduce emissions from what they otherwise would be,” he says, since “history has shown that industry can appear to be reducing emissions simply by making emission-reducing investments that would have occurred anyway.”
Scheer’s promise to scrap the forthcoming Clean Fuel Standard is equally ill-judged, Jaccard says, given “decades of evidence” showing that a higher fuel standard “will not occur voluntarily in energy markets.”
Banking on innovation alone to render moot the need for regulation—with “green technology, not taxes” as Scheer’s rallying cry—may “sound alluring,” he adds. “But independent experts have frequently explained and empirically demonstrated why green technology innovation is most effective when incentivized by carbon pricing or regulations that make these technologies financially attractive.”
Jaccard is scathing about Scheer’s proposed Green Patent Credit, suggesting it’s “based on the myth that a dearth of low-emission technologies prevents us from reducing GHG emissions”. The reality, he says, is that “it is the low cost of burning fossil fuels (and the low or zero cost of CO2 emissions) that prevents us from running vehicles, heating homes, and processing materials with known, commercially-available, zero-emission technologies that use electricity or bioenergy.”
Equally misleading is a grab-bag of flashy sounding initiatives like the Green Home Retrofit Code, the Net-Zero Building Standard, and the Energy Savings Performance Contracting program. Jaccard says the retrofit code will be meaningless without a carbon price or regulation, while the others will be redundant.
As to the Conservatives’ proposal to “foster” and “pursue” a greener grid, Jaccard warns against rescinding the current government’s coal phaseout, noting that Scheer’s plan is silent on the 2030 phaseout deadline. He says such a decision, coupled with the elimination of the OBPS, would produce “significantly greater GHG emissions in the Canadian electricity sector relative to the scenario in which all policies are frozen at their 2019 condition.”
Jaccard concludes: “The climate plan unveiled by the Conservative Party of Canada in June 2019 is a throwback to an earlier era in which climate-insincere politicians tried to trick climate-concerned citizens into believing they were taking action to reduce GHG emissions, with information and subsidy programs alongside vague statements about GHG-reducing actions that somehow occur without carbon pricing and/or regulations.”
Not only are such proposals duplicitous, declares Jaccard, they are profoundly in error, ignoring a virtually global expert consensus that the only way to decarbonize an economy is with a rising carbon price, or through increasingly stringent regulation.