Diana Carney

Issues: Carbon and Energy

March 5, 2012

Canada is one of the highest per capita carbon dioxide emitters in the world. We are likely to increase, significantly, our production of fossil fuels over the coming decades. Yet we have no coherent strategy for managing our emissions. Having pulled out of Kyoto, and in the light of intense criticism over oil sands expansion and plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, the need for such a strategy could not be clearer.

The world remains dependent on fossil fuels, and will do for many years to come as energy demand increases. It is therefore unrealistic to think that we will not exploit our reserves. But how can we do this in a way that charts a better course between short-term economic benefit and longer-term environment considerations? And what steps can we take to ensure that we are able to take advantage of opportunities in the green economy of the future?

Key issues in this area include the fact that:

  • Successive Canadian governments have failed to make any significant progress on reducing carbon emissions.
  • Current economic woes have pushed carbon issues down the agenda in both Canada and the US.
  • We have hooked ourselves to the US in this area (ostensibly for competitiveness reasons). There are two problems with this: (a) our economic and carbon structure is very different from theirs and (b) the US presently has no political ability to make headway.
  • Provincial governments are considerably more advanced in addressing carbon emissions than the federal government. This is not the optimal way around (ideally we would start from the top and have a global regime, rather than starting from the bottom with a piecemeal approach).
  • There are very many different pieces to the carbon puzzle and many vested interests. We have to think about them all. A carbon strategy must address and build coalitions of support for: demand management, regulation, incentives (e.g. on technology side) and the use of market mechanisms. It must provide a stable and predictable path forward that will enable individuals and businesses to plan for the future. It should also be linked with a national energy strategy.
  • Putting a price on carbon is the most economically efficient way to address the carbon problem, yet we are very far from this happening.

As we seek to move forward, we need to determine:

  • What prevents our governments from making headway in this area? How might change be catalyzed?
  • What timeframe should we be focusing on? We will not meet our 2020 Copenhagen goals, but should we forget about these entirely?
  • How can we build on the efforts of the provinces, using these to create – and win support for – a coherent strategy built “from below”? What should the specific role of the federal government be?
  • What can we learn from the experience of other countries?
  • What type of economic impact should we expect from (a) action and (b) inaction in this area?



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