There’s a lot of hot air blowing around Ottawa, and not just because summer has finally arrived.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been busy talking up climate change, even as he jetted to the Raptors’ parade last week in Toronto and skipped the House of Commons vote on declaring a “climate emergency.”
Then this week, the Twitterverse had fun circulating a snap of the PM at a table piled with plastic forks — days after Trudeau’s much-mocked news conference announcing the phase-out of single-use plastics by 2021.
Meanwhile, the NDP is blasting the Liberals’ approval of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, hoping to stall the Greens, who are polling at 10 per cent going into this fall’s federal election and threatening to split the environmental vote.
And then, there are the Conservatives, who have finally produced a Green Plan of their own. As opposed to hot air, however, it’s actually a much fresher version. Finally, a party has the courage to say that market forces can be harnessed to improve the environment — and that technology, not taxes, points the way to a cooler and greener planet.
The Conservative plan would respect Canada’s targets in the Paris Accord — set by former Tory PM Stephen Harper, as it takes pains to point out — by obliging polluters to invest in green technology related to their industry. It will apply to all facilities emitting 40 kilotonnes of CO2 per year, rather than the 50 kt threshold set by the Liberals. It would also encourage individual homeowners to green their homes through a retrofit credit, and boost protection of wetlands and habitat through private conservation.
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Critics have jumped on the plan as short on specifics, and decried the very notion of “tech, not taxes” as wrongheaded. That type of myopic thinking is exactly the problem. Canadian politicians — and most Canadian environmentalists — haven’t explored many outside-the-box ideas on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, capture and storage technology, known as CCS, which does not involve using less oil, but mitigates its effects on the environment.
CCS projects span the globe, from Switzerland to sub-Saharan Africa. They can be as sophisticated as plucking carbon molecules from the air, and as basic as maintaining grasslands as carbon sinks. The goal of all of them is to remove carbon from the atmosphere or from industrial processes and store it so it does not impact the climate. Several such projects exist in Canada as well, including Shell Canada’s Quest CCS project in Edmonton, which to date has stored four million tonnes of carbon dioxide underground in the past four years, more than any other onshore CCS facility, according to data from the Global CCS Institute.
EXPLAINER: How carbon capture works
This tech doesn’t come cheap — for now. Quest alone cost a whopping $1.35 billion. But CCS costs are likely to decline as major powers incentivize the technology on a large scale. The 2018 U.S. federal budget provided tax credits of up to US$50 per tonne for captured CO2, estimated to increase the total amount of carbon capture and storage capacity around the world by 66 per cent by 2026.
China is building CCUS plants, which not only capture and store carbon but reuse it to generate more energy. And at a recent global conference of international energy ministers in Vancouver, CCS was championed by Rick Perry, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, and Michal Krutyka, the Minister of Energy for Poland and president of COP24. As far back as 2005, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) studied and incorporated CCS technology as a means of fighting climate change.
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But to hear the Liberals, NDP and Greens talk, cooling the planet is all about taxing carbon, replacing oil with renewables, or using less oil. All three tactics have failed to prevent emissions from increasing, and some have had severe economic consequences. The Ontario Liberals’ Green Energy plan, in particular, locked the government into renewables contracts at above-market prices for decades, doubling hydro prices in the province in less than a decade. Carbon taxes raise the price of goods and services, and paradoxically, rebating these costs to consumers gives them little incentive to change their consumption patterns.
Finally, environmentalists are naïve to say that we can just “leave the oil in the ground.” The reality is that global demand for oil will continue well past 2030 because it is cheaper and more reliable than alternatives.
CCS also presents a more realistic solution when you consider Canadians’ resistance to paying for a lower-carbon environment. A recent study CBC News poll found that while nearly two-thirds of Canadians believe combatting climate change is a top priority, 50 per cent would not pay more than $100 per year in taxes to prevent it from happening.
The Tories correctly note that many Canadians also don’t have the option to significantly lower their emissions, even if they wanted to. Commuters in the GTA aren’t all going to ditch their cars, and many homeowners in western Canada don’t have options other than oil or natural gas to heat their homes.
So rather than taxing people to try and force them to use less carbon-based fuels, why not focus on better ways to mitigate the effects of their use? Why not seek out technological solutions to allow us to continue using the resource and creating jobs, while doing less harm? Kudos to Scheer and the Tories for championing tech instead of taxes. Their plan may not be perfect, but it’s a sight better than the same old tax and spend.
Tasha Kheiriddin is the founder and CEO of Ellipsum Communications and a Global News contributor.