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Adapting to extreme weather is important — but reducing emissions is key: advocate

WATCH ABOVE: Michael Bernstein, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, discusses the proposed climate policies of the federal political parties and the carbon tax in the run up to the upcoming election.

It won’t be enough for Canada just to adapt to extreme weather, one climate advocate argues.

Instead, political leaders need to get serious about putting forward plans to voters to reduce carbon emissions to the levels outlined in the Paris Accord.

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That’s the case Michael Bernstein, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, made in an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson.

Some recent debate, including an opinion column by former Conservative cabinet minister Joe Oliver, has argued a focus on reducing global emissions is misplaced and Canada should instead focus on a plan to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather.

But Bernstein said unless there is a reduction in emissions too, trying to adapt will not be enough.

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“Adaptation is really important and it’s something we do need to do but I would say I think it’s really a side show to the much more important challenge which is reducing our carbon emissions,” Bernstein said.

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Bernstein and his organization are advocates for the use of a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the Paris Accord, Canada has agreed to reduce its emissions by 2030 to 30 per cent of 2005 levels.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has implemented a carbon tax that sits at $20 per tonne emitted, and will rise by $10 per tonne each year until the total tax reaches $50 per tonne in 2022. That tax gets applied on provinces that do not have programs in place to reduce emissions that meet federal criteria.

It’s currently in place in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.

It will start in Alberta next year.

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But estimates, including one from the Parliamentary Budget Officer earlier this year, suggest that the carbon tax needs to much higher to have the effect of reducing emissions to the levels Canada is aiming to hit.

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That’s led to questions about whether the government will raise the carbon tax after the current agreement with the provinces runs out in 2022.

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said last week there are no plans to increase the carbon tax before 2022.

Any increase after that point would be decided in consultation with provinces and other stakeholders, she said.

Bernstein said he would like to see whatever party forms government in the upcoming federal election commit to increasing the tax.

“I would like to see the parties, including the Liberal Party, commit to a gradually raising carbon tax,” he said, adding the gradual increase helps Canadians adjust over time. “I think this really is about getting Canadians used to the idea there are ways we can change.”

Of the four main federal parties, only the Greens have a plan that involves a continued increase to the carbon tax.

They want to continue raising it by $10 per tonne every year after 2022, until the point where there are no more carbon emissions.

Bernstein said from his organization’s view, the Green plan is the most robust of any of the federal parties.

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‘Their ambition is absolutely the highest,” he said, adding he would like the Liberals increase their carbon tax.

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The NDP position is the same as the Liberals with regard to the price on carbon, and proposes a target of $50 per tonne in 2022.

The Conservatives want to eliminate the carbon tax entirely and replace it with a system that forces industrial emitters to invest in green technology.

But the party says it will not reveal the amount it would make polluters invest per tonne of emissions unless it forms government.

Bernstein said he doesn’t think that plan will be enough, and he hopes the party will reconsider.