Nathaniel Erskine-Smith is the Liberal MP for Beaches-East York.
There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that global climate change is caused by human activities and that it is a very serious threat – 97 per cent of climate experts agree. According to the Royal Society and US National Academy of Sciences, “the evidence is clear.”
The evidence is also clear that inaction will cost more than action. The question is no longer whether to take action, but how we can do so effectively.
We will try to answer that question at our Climate Change Town Hall on September 14, at 7 p.m., at the Beach United Church, where we will be joined by experts as well as representatives from all levels of government. The goal is to provide a forum in which we can critically examine actions that governments, businesses, and individuals can and should take to tackle climate change.
International agreements, such as the one reached in Paris last year, are important in setting benchmarks. But we need policies to ensure those benchmarks are met.
First, education is critical. More Canadians need to understand the causes and costs of climate change. Everything we do – from our journey to work, to what we have for dinner – has an impact on our planet and, as consumers, we should make choices to lessen that impact. Replacing high GHG emitting vehicles and reducing industrial meat consumption are good places to start.
Second, positive behavioural changes should be encouraged or nudged by government policies. For example, as I said in a speech addressed to the House last December, we need to ensure effective carbon pricing across our country. The real costs of fossil fuels and other activities – that is, their negative cost to our environment – should be reflected in their prices.
It’s an idea supported by a consensus of economists, it’s a market-based solution, and it emphasizes the principle that polluters should pay.
In a speech addressed to the House in May, I advocated for a minimum national carbon price that provinces can opt out of where they have an identical (or higher) pricing regime.
This is the same model our federal privacy legislation is built on, and allows for provincial flexibility. Our Prime Minister and Environment Minister have indicated that this is likely where we are headed. A federal framework is also important for border adjustments, to ensure imported goods are equally subject to a minimum carbon price.
Higher prices of everyday goods have the potential to jeopardize the public’s trust in government action. It is important that we be transparent about any increase in the price of carbon, explain why it is necessary, give businesses time to adjust, and ensure that increased prices do not negatively affect lower-income Canadians.
Ideally, any revenue generated by an increased price would be used to increase direct payments to lower-income Canadians through a tax credit, thereby making them whole or even lowering their overall tax burden.
There is no question that carbon prices will need to increase substantially from current levels to be effective at changing consumption patterns.
Industry-specific regulations will likely be necessary as well, including energy efficient standards for new buildings, appliances, vehicles etc.
Third, government has a role to play in supporting the clean technology industry, and withdrawing taxpayer subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.
Where jobs are inevitably lost in our oil and gas sector, government support for those workers will also be important.
A renewed federal focus on innovation will hopefully address that our clean-tech industry has lost 40 per cent of its global market share over the last decade. Many necessary innovations are coming – such as affordable electric cars – but they are not coming fast enough based purely on market forces. The key question here is how government can disburse these innovation funds in the most efficient and impactful way.
Our federal climate change policy is still being written, but we are committed to doing our part. I’ve started the conversation with three general ideas: education, carbon regulation, and clean tech investment. I hope to see you with your own ideas on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at Beach United.