The Conservatives’ climate action plan announced last week drew predictable criticism from activists for not having clear targets, and from the purists in the conservative support base for putting a cost on emissions.
The plan makes it clear that the Tories want nothing to do with a carbon tax, which is central to the Liberal government’s climate action plan—a point that has been a bone of contention between Conservative-led provinces and the federal government—and instead requires high emitters to invest in green technology.
The plan hinges on three principles: “Green technology, no taxes”; “A cleaner and greener natural environment” (which gives a pledge to conserve the air, land, water, and wildlife, work with the municipalities and provinces, and review and update strategies once in power); and “Taking the climate change flight global.”
The latter drives home the point that Canada is a small emitter and if emissions are to be lowered globally, the world’s biggest emitters have to take action, with China leading the charge. Canada can help by exporting natural gas and by selling technology that helps reduce emissions to other countries.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna slammed Scheer’s plan, saying it lacks detail, and that to make any meaningful change, a price needs to be put on emissions.
“The Paris Agreement requires every country to do their part. Every country needs to take serious action at home,” McKenna said in a news conference.
Under the U.N.’s Paris Agreement, Canada has committed to reducing emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said this month that if the targets are to be met, the federal government needs to impose higher carbon tax rates. The Liberals, however, insist they are on track to meet the targets.
In an interview with CTV, Scheer said his plan will involve a cost for emissions exceeding a limit, but he said he won’t call it a price.
“The key difference between a tax and this plan is that the government doesn’t collect this revenue … this is a process, a mechanism whereby these emitters can invest in reducing their emissions,” he said.
People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier, who is critical of Scheer for opting to follow the Paris Agreement targets, said on Twitter that if “it looks like a tax, walks like a tax, and quacks like a tax, then it probably is a tax. Not a ‘process or mechanism.’” His party’s platform leaves climate policy decisions to the provinces.
Criticism aside, what was important for Scheer going into the election was to have an environment plan, says Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
“If you don’t have anything, you’ll get called on it in the media and by others, so you have to put something out there,” he says.
Wiseman says that as far as the substance of the Conservatives’ plan is concerned, people already have an idea where different parties stand on climate action issues, so it won’t have that much of an impact on how people vote. This is even more the case as it gets closer to election time, since people are more likely to vote strategically to ensure those closer to their own ideology get elected.
Cornelis van Kooten, a professor at the department of economics at the University of Victoria, agrees that the major parties are putting out a platform on the environment for the sake of the election so they can show that “there’s a policy to satisfy our so-called obligations [under the Paris Agreement].”
But he says that at the end of the day, no Canadian policy will make a real impact on reducing emissions globally, as Canada is too small a player.
“We can shut down our economy and stop producing for a year or two. It wouldn’t matter,” van Kooten says. “Within a year, China will grow so much that their emissions would [dominate].”