How to misrepresent good climate policy

Photo of windmills by Pricilla du Perez (

If facts are the colourful pools of paint on an artist’s palette, then perhaps the truth is the whole painting.

Paint, in other words, does not make art without the artist. And a single fact does not make the truth without someone putting it in its proper context.

Unfortunately, politics and artistry don’t always mix, as we witnessed a couple weeks ago around one of the federal government’s most significant climate change policies. No, not the one you’re thinking of. This time, it was the clean fuel standard, a flexible regulation focused on making fuels cleaner.

First, some background: in July, the Conservative Party of Canada announced that, just like the price on pollution, Canada’s clean fuel standard would be met with a falling axe if the party were to form government in October. The policy, one of the two biggest in the federal government’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change alongside carbon pricing, plays a huge role in Canada’s efforts to combat climate change.

In short, scrapping it would mean an even bigger emissions gap relative to our climate target — nearly 40 per cent bigger, in fact.

The argument put forward to scrap it? In Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer’s words, because it’s “a secret fuel tax” that would increase the cost of gasoline by four cents. That number, according to the party, was informed by Clean Energy Canada’s 2017 report on the clean fuel standard, along with stakeholder interviews.

Clean Energy Canada is a think tank at Simon Fraser University focusing on the clean-energy transition and the right measures to accelerate it. Let’s delve into our report, which was created in partnership with Navius Research.

Here are the facts as they pertain to gasoline prices: the clean fuel standard (which was never secret and is literally not a tax) will not become a regulatory requirement for liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel until 2022. It will add a cent or two to the cost of a litre of gasoline in 2025. And it is not until 2030 that the policy could add about five cents to the price at the pump — the range Scheer is referring to. MORE

Cutting fossil fuels could save Canadians $24 billion a year by 2050

“We are still seeing efficiency standards for many buildings either weak or nonexistent.”

IEA executive director Fatih Birol speaks with attendees at the Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver on May 29, 2019 before he gave opening remarks to the gathering of 25 countries. Photo by Jennifer Gauthier

Canadians could save as much as $24 billion annually by 2050 by scaling back the use of fossil fuels to heat and cool their buildings and deploying a range of low-carbon and energy efficient technologies, according to a new joint study by a federal regulator and an international agency.

These tens of billions of dollars a year in savings would come on top of cutting energy demand by as much as 35 per cent and could be achieved through the use of existing technology, say the National Energy Board (NEB) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) in their new research.

But in order to deliver on “the energy savings potential and related emissions reduction,” Canada will need “additional policy signals” like carbon pricing and tightened energy performance requirements for buildings, they say.

That’s in part because abundant and cheaply priced natural gas in Canada poses a “particular challenge” to cutting carbon pollution and reducing energy demand in homes and offices.

“Policy support is needed to encourage shifts to efficient heat pumps in regions where natural gas and electricity prices mean there may be little economic incentive to change equipment,” the report states.

The joint report was published the same day the IEA’s executive director delivered a sobering message in Vancouver about the state of the world’s clean energy transition, in remarks to a gathering of ministers from 25 countries. MORE

Canada leads G7 in oil and gas subsidies: new report


In spite of Canadians’ objection to fossil fuel subsidies, Justin Trudeau always backs the fossil fuel corporations while, at the same time, pretending he has a robust environmental policy. His priorities are clear; but are they yours? Tell your MP you want environmental protection for your family and future generations.

New research shows vast majority of Canadians support phaseout of government support for fossil fuel companies

Justin Trudeau G7
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flanked by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during 2017 G7 summit in Taormina, Italy. Photo: European Council President via Flickr

Canada provides more government support for oil and gas companies than any other G7 nation and is among the least transparent about fossil fuel subsidies, a new report reveals.

“Fossil fuel subsidies undermine carbon pricing, work against the achievement of Canada’s climate targets, encourage more fossil fuel exploration and production, and allocate scarce public resources away from other priorities like health care, education and renewable energy,” says the report, which ranks the progress of G7 countries in meeting their pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.

Accompanied by a new Ekos poll, the research found a large majority of Canadians are strongly opposed to using public money to support oil and gas companies and want to see billions of dollars a year in subsidies phased out.

The exception was Alberta — the heart of Canada’s oil and gas industry — where people polled were concerned about the economic impacts of removing government support for oil and gas corporations.

Even so, 48 per cent of Albertans polled disagreed with public subsidies for oil and gas companiesMORE

Oilsands CO2 emissions may be far higher than companies report, scientists say


The neoliberal bargain that underpinned Canada’s ‘climate policy’–allow tar sand to expand and ship the world’s dirtiest oil to market overseas through the TransMountain pipeline–has now been shot out of the water. Our climate emissions are now nowhere near adequate to meet the IPCC report requirement of keeping emission below 1.5 degrees C to prevent global ecocide. Write to your MP and demand action!

Air samples taken over northern Alberta operations suggest previous figures could be way off

Operations in Alberta’s oilsands may be emitting significantly more carbon dioxide than previously calculated, according newly published research from federal scientists. (Getty Images)

A number of major oilsands operations in northern Alberta seem to be emitting significantly more carbon pollution than companies have been reporting, newly published research from federal scientists suggests, which could have profound consequences for government climate-change strategies.

The researchers, mainly from Environment Canada, calculated emissions rates for four major oilsands surface mining operations using air samples collected in 2013 on 17 airplane flights over the area.

In results published today in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists say the air samples from just those surface mining operations suggest their carbon dioxide emissions are 64 per cent higher, on average, than what the companies themselves report to the federal government using the standard United Nations reporting framework for greenhouse gases.

It means that Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions would be around 2.3 per cent higher than previously thought. And if research eventually shows that other oilsands sites are subject to similar underreporting issues, Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions could be as much as six per cent more than thought — throwing a wrench into the calculations that underpin government emissions strategies.

Accurate estimates of anthropogenic or human-generated greenhouse gases “inform national and international climate policies,” the researchers write. “Such anthropogenic GHG emission data ultimately underpin carbon pricing and trading policies.” MORE


Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions went up in 2017 — far short of reduction targets
Oilsands polluted more than entire economies of B.C. or Quebec
Canada’s emissions target gets further away as 2017 report shows increase
Kenney defiantly challenges Trudeau on climate

10 Myths about Carbon Pricing in Canada

I am excited to announce our newest report, 10 Myths about Carbon Pricing in Canada.

Over the last 10 years, Canada has made tremendous strides in climate policy. But continued progress is not guaranteed.

In 2019, the debate is heating up and its more important than ever that we have honest, evidence-based conversations about our options to deal with climate change.

Our report today aims to improve the quality of these conversations by debunking 10 common myths about carbon pricing that we hear from Canadians—be it at the dinner table, on social media, and even on TV.

I invite you to check out the report or our infographic, then use it as a resource and share it. We have a video to help with that. And we hope that it will lead to a better debate—for you, your province and the country as whole.



When we debate carbon pricing, can we at least stick to the facts?

The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a tailings pond near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse-gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy. JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

As a group of economists, we still believe that facts should matter when it comes to making important policy decisions. Unfortunately, not everyone involved in the Canadian climate policy debate appears to agree. Myths and rhetoric are pushing the real facts to the sidelines. The result is a mix of confusion and polarization that is poisoning our public debate, and we are losing patience.

As a case in point, Ontario Premier Doug Ford recently claimed that carbon pricing will be a “total economic disaster” for the country and cause a “carbon-tax recession.” Despite the fact that this claim strongly contradicts almost all of the available empirical evidence on carbon pricing, we’re hearing it repeated more often.

So, let’s start with this fact: Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse-gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy. Other policy approaches – such as intrusive and prescriptive regulations, or generous production or consumption subsidies – will cost the economy far more to achieve the same outcome.

In fact, carbon pricing appears to have negligible impacts on economic growth when it is well-designed. British Columbia has had carbon pricing since 2008, and its economy is one of the strongest in Canada. Quebec has had carbon pricing since 2013, and it is now experiencing an economic renaissance. Carbon pricing isn’t causing the growth in either case, but neither is it preventing it. No “economic disaster” in these provinces. Ditto for California, the United Kingdom and, for that matter, Ontario’s carbon-pricing system that lasted from 2015 until its repeal last year. MORE

Ten Compelling Reasons Why Carbon Pricing Works

After a multi-year fight for political acceptance, carbon pricing is suddenly under attack from all sides of the political spectrum.

Ten Compelling Reasons Why Carbon Pricing Works, Below2C

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

  1. It’s a method of redistributing money from high carbon emitters to lower carbon emitters. Something like 70% of households 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 she calls 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 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. MORE

David Suzuki: Canadian pipeline push promotes false and misleading claims


An Angus Reid poll found 58 percent of Canadians think lack of pipeline capacity is a national crisis. They can be forgiven for this. The company that owns a near monopoly on newspapers in Canada, aided by politicians and fossil fuel interests, has put significant effort into convincing them.

That the number rises to 87 percent in Alberta, with 96 percent believing that not building new pipelines would have a major impact on the Canadian economy, isn’t surprising. All mainstream newspapers there are owned by the same company, political parties across the spectrum prioritize oil and gas interests over everything, and even educational institutions like the University of Calgary have been compromised by industry influence.

What won’t help is continuing to dig up, frack, and sell climate-disrupting fossil fuels as quickly as possible

The economic and societal costs from the pollution and climate impacts of rapidly digging up, shipping, and consuming these fossil fuels, whether the end product is burned here or in other countries, continue to rise along with global emissions and temperatures. That’s a crisis! MORE


Four provinces outperformed the rest, all while pricing carbon pollution

Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and B.C. led in economic growth

Rooftop solar panels in Leduc, Alberta. Photo: David Dodge, Green Energy Futures

Beyond all the bluster, what does the evidence say about the relationship between economic performance and carbon pricing? As it turns out, we have a pretty good case study here in Canada.

In 2017, pricing carbon pollution became mainstream economic policy in Canada. Comprehensive carbon pricing systems are already in place in Canada’s four largest provinces, representing 86 per cent of the population. Ontario and Quebec have a cap-and-trade system linked to California, Alberta’s carbon levy increased from $20 per tonne to $30 per tonne on January 1, and British Columbia has a carbon tax at $30 per tonne (scheduled to increase to $35 per tonne in April).

The data soundly refute the misconception that a carbon price hurts economic competitiveness and growth.

In 2017, Canada led the G7 (a grouping of seven of the world’s largest advanced economies) in economic growth. It was our country’s best year for job gains since 2002. Unemployment is at a four-decade low. In short, it was a year of economic success for the country. MORE

Political climate is heating up

Road sign saying "End climate injustice"

As we head into an election year in Canada, we must ensure that climate and the environment are priorities for all parties.(Photo: Jon Tyson via Unsplash)

In 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen reported to Congress that evidence for human-caused global warming was near undeniable, conservative politicians including the U.K.’s Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Canada’s Brian Mulroney agreed that action was needed. In my home province of B.C., a right-leaning government, the B.C. Liberal Party, introduced a carbon tax in 2008.

Now, as the evidence compels us to increasingly urgent action — the latest IPCC report says we have about 12 years to get emissions under control or face catastrophe — politicians from parties that once cared about the future are lining up to downplay or deny human-caused climate disruption and are hindering plans to address it.

There’s little evidence that governments are treating the climate emergency as seriously as is warranted, preferring to focus on short-term economic gains and election cycles instead.

Here in Canada, politicians claim to take climate change seriously but reject plans to mitigate it without offering better alternatives. Some provincial and federal leaders are governing or building campaigns around rejection of carbon pricing, a proven tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s interesting, because carbon pricing is a market-based strategy, whereas the kind of government regulation that would be required in its absence is something conservative thinkers usually reject. MORE