Tom Fletcher: Carbon tax hits a Trump-sized wall

B.C.’s delegation to the annual United Nations climate change summit has returned from the desert of Morocco, North Africa.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak skipped this year’s event, sending West Vancouver MLA Jordan Sturdy to collect one of 13 UN “Momentum for Change” awards handed out at COP22, the 22nd international “Conference of the Parties.”

B.C. was recognized for its revenue neutral $30-a-tonne carbon tax, still the only substantial tax on carbon fuel consumption in North America.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also passed this year, visiting Cuba and Argentina instead. His entourage would have brought Canada’s delegation close to the record 335 Canadian officials who jetted to COP21 in Paris last year, but without him it was a relatively modest 225.

A few more numbers: with 20,000 delegates and observers, another 30,000 “civil society” activists from 192 countries, and 1,500 journalists, a temporary city sprang up at the village of Bab Ighli near Marrakech. It was fitted with electric car charging stations, which sat unused after everyone flew in from around the world.

Sturdy is B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Energy Literacy and the Environment. This vast circus of hot air and hot airport tarmac certainly suggests a need for greater energy literacy, among participants especially. But enough of the UN’s hypocrisy.

The big news at Morocco was the surprise election of Donald Trump, who has vowed to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. With no restrictions on rapidly growing China and India until 2030, and withdrawal of the U.S., the world’s second largest emitter after China, other countries face an impossible burden.

For countries that ratify it, the Paris deal consists of non-binding commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions with a goal to keep global average temperature rise below two degrees.

Speaking in Morocco, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Canada will stay the course. Trudeau has given provinces a 2018 deadline to impose their own carbon price, starting at $10 a tonne and rising by $10 each year, or Ottawa will do it for them.

By 2021, this would see the rest of Canada catch up to B.C. How’s that working here? After a dip in emissions mostly caused by a world recession, B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising along with its growing economy.

But enough of my skepticism. I asked B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver about all this. A climate scientist and hard-liner on carbon emissions, he says the intent of the Paris agreement for Canada is simple.

“In signing Paris, you’ve committed to de-carbonizing your energy systems,” Weaver said. “You cannot approve any new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

That means no pipelines to B.C.’s northwest coast for liquefied natural gas exports to Asia, and no twinning of the 63-year-old Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

The Trudeau government has approved the Petronas-led Pacific Northwest LNG project, which Weaver insists will never be built because the economics don’t work. And he expects, like many others, that Trudeau is poised to approve the Trans Mountain project, which would face opposition like we’ve never seen before.

If the U.S. actually tears up climate and trade deals, Weaver says other countries should impose tariffs on its export goods to price U.S. emissions.

“I’m not overly concerned about Trump,” he said. “The guy’s a windbag.”

Pardon my personal carbon footprint, but I’m visiting Japan and China at the end of the month with B.C.’s annual forest ministry trade mission. Those two countries are key customers for B.C. LNG and Alberta oil. I’ll have more on that in a future column.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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