Provinces Take Action on Carbon Emissions Reductions Where Federal Government Is Failing, Says Report

Several provincial initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are closing the gap created by the federal government’s continuing lack of climate legislation. This patchwork of provincial policies may be the future of climate policy in Canada, according to a review of Canadian climate or carbon policy in 2013.

If we have learned anything about carbon policy in Canada, it is that top-down national systems are lost to the federation and we need to embrace bottom-up subnational systems,” argues the review released recently by the prestigious International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in Winnipeg.

The Institute found in 2013 the federal government’s will to implement greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reducing regulations “evaporated,” but several Canadian provinces had “major successes” in adopting measures to reduce their own provincial carbon footprints. BC’s carbon tax, Quebec’s cap and trade system and Ontario phasing out coal-fired power plants are a few highlights of 2013 filling the lack of federal climate policy gap mentioned in the report.

In 2012 the carbon policy Lego was strewn across the floor waiting to be built. In 2013 we walked on it with bare feet. Looking forward to 2014, one has to wonder if the Lego will be put back in the box and forgotten in the basement until yet another federal plan emerges. In the meantime, look to the provinces to take it upon themselves to start building something from all of the pieces,” concludes the report.

Eighty-four percent of Canadians want the federal government to take action on climate change according to a November 2013 survey.

Climate Policy Highlights in 2013

The year of 2013 was a dismal for federal climate policy in Canada. The federal government quietly admitted to the U.N. Canada was nowhere near meeting its weak GHG reduction targets for 2020. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada’s long awaited oil-and-gas sector emissions regulations were years away from becoming a reality. Many had hoped the Harper government would implement those regulations to win over U.S. President Barrack Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline at the very least.

But the year was not all bad according to the IISD report.

While the federal government in Ottawa may loathe the idea of a carbon tax east of the Rockies, B.C. decided in 2013 to keep its successful and popular carbon tax going. The price on emissions will remain at $30 per tonne as well. B.C. also decided to extend its Clean Energy Vehicle Incentive, which offers up to $5,000 off on the purchase of electric, hybrid or natural gas powered vehicles.

Back in Ontario, (in Toronto, not Ottawa) premier Kathleen Wynne announced in 2013 the shut down of all coal-fired power plants in the province will be complete by the end of this year. The Institute describes this as the “single largest regulatory action in North America” to reduce GHG emissions. Wynne followed this up with a bill to ban the use of coal for power generation in the province in the future.

And in Quebec, the province launched its cap and trade system – trading permits on allowable GHG emissions – last year. Quebec linked its system with California’s successful cap and trade system to create a bigger market to trade permits. Hopes are high that the Quebec-California emissions trading market will serve as an example for other provinces and states to use this market-based approach to reducing GHG emissions.

Learning from our provincial policy labs and building on successes now need to be ongoing objectives of those helping to shape future policy,” IISD argues in the report.

The report also commends the actions taken by other provinces in 2013. Newfoundland and Labrador's guaranteeing a $5 billion loan for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project and Nova Scotia’s approval of the Maritime Link – Nova Scotia buying water power from Labrador – were “major milestones in energy development in 2013.” Even Alberta received recognition for reviewing how the province could make its oil and gas emissions regulations stricter.

Provincial Patchwork Policy Could Be the Future of Canadian Climate Policy

The IISD argues in absence of a unified national climate policy a fragmented climate policy made up of a “patchwork” of provincial policies is emerging in Canada.

Against this backdrop of federal inaction and provincial patchwork, it is perhaps time to embrace policy fragmentation within the federation. The path forward for 2014 and beyond is therefore one of seeking provincial alignment to minimize long-term administrative and compliance costs,” states the report.

A fragmented provincial policies approach in the absence of federal policy is not a new concept to Canada. Canada’s current health care system of free and accessible health coverage for all Canadians was adopted by Saskatchewan before the federal government would even consider it.

The trick for an effective patchwork climate policy, according to the Institute, will be to find commonalities and linkages in the various provincial policies so they can work in cooperation with one another. 

Image Credit: International Institute for Sustainable Development Policy Brief