This op-ed by Stephen Cornish and Devon Page was originally published in the Regina Leader-Post on February 12, 2019.
From gender equity to the right to choose, Canadians have turned to the courts to uphold principles of fairness and equality. Another such legal battle is arriving in Regina courts this week; this time, over whether the federal government has the jurisdiction to implement an effective and fair national climate plan that prices carbon pollution.
The risks of climate change, and our ability to respond to counter it effectively, constitutes a national emergency. Like any national emergency, the federal government must have the authority to act.
At stake is no less than the federal government’s ability to implement urgently needed measures to dramatically cut Canada’s carbon emissions. According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, we have just 12 years to scale up solutions to change course. The time for solutions is now.
A national carbon price is one such solution. But at least two Canadian provincial governments, Saskatchewan’s and Ontario’s, are working to hinder federal implementation of a national price on carbon pollution. Meanwhile, organizations like ours take the position that such a price is fair and effective, and critically urgent given the rapidly closing window to bring global emissions to zero if we are to slow climate change.
This case goes well beyond just a single policy like carbon pricing. It has more to do with the ability of the federal government to take actions that reduce emissions and protect people throughout Canada. We need a fair response to climate change because all Canadians feel its impacts. We need an effective response to climate change because all Canadians benefit from least-cost solutions. We need to act urgently because extreme weather events from a rapidly changing climate constitute a national health emergency, according to Canadian health professionals.
Asthma, Lyme disease and other illnesses are on the rise because of dramatic changes to Earth’s climate systems. Wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta and floods in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are causing anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Wildfires in British Columbia also spread smoke as far away as Ontario, polluting the lungs and lives of Canadians across several provinces. We need to act urgently to lower these risks and to keep our families and communities safe.
Greenhouse gases — largely carbon dioxide — are the major cause of climate change. That is why a price on emissions for polluters from burning oil, coal and natural gas is fair and effective. A comprehensive climate plan includes regulations and a price on carbon.
It’s not helpful that critics of policy action claim these measures will lead to an economic downturn as severe as that during the Great Depression. Real-world experience shows their claims ring hollow. Most economists agree that carbon pricing is effective because it cuts pollution efficiently and it makes solutions like renewable energy more affordable. Look no further than British Columbia, where a carbon price has been in place for more than a decade, reducing carbon pollution while the economy has continued to outperform the Canadian average.
Letting some polluters off the hook while other jurisdictions implement effective policies to help achieve their emissions reductions targets is unfair. Worse, it is irresponsible. Every province must pull its weight in our collective effort to cut the carbon emissions that are disrupting the climate. Greenhouse gas emissions — like other forms of pollution — know no borders. As such, they demand a collective solution.
In other words, a fair approach is an accountable approach. Saskatchewan and Ontario argue they can give polluters a free pass on pricing carbon. New Brunswick and Manitoba say they want to do the same.
This much is obvious: A national carbon price upholds principles of fairness and effectiveness and is urgently needed.
Devon Page is executive director of Ecojustice. Stephen Cornish is the David Suzuki Foundation’s CEO.