PART THREE: GOVERNMENT'S ROLE IN THE TRANSITION TO SUSTAINABILITY
Sackville Tribune-Post :: 9 April 2014
On Jan. 1st 2014 The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first part of their fifth assessment on the consistent progress of global warming. The message then was clear, after four more years of study the scientists had in no way changed their collective opinion that climate change is real, increasing in intensity and on track to continue warming the atmosphere unless corrective actions are taken world wide.
The second part (of three parts) of this report was released on April 1st. The tone was more urgent, if we don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately to slow down and cap the warming of the atmosphere at 2 degrees Celsius within the next twenty years, we will, by then, have lost the ability to do so.
A look at what Denmark has achieved will help us understand how a country can set and achieve ambitious climate goals that reduce dependence on coal, oil and gas. Success begins with having the political will to forge agreements within the government and establish incremental goals that are legally binding. For decades Denmark has done just this. They have recently paved the way for the passage of climate targets that would outstrip goals set by the European Union (EU) of which they are a member nation.
The European Parliament has agreed to cut GHG emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Denmark plans to do it by 2020 and considering their record there is little doubt they will succeed. The broader EU targets are considered non-binding until approved by the governments of individual countries, so Denmark is moving forward with ambitious cuts to fossil fuel use that set them apart. Their final goal is to use 100% renewable energy resources and to become a low carbon society by 2050. Presently, the numbers sourced from the Danish Energy Agency indicate renewable energy accounted for 43.1% of Denmark's domestic energy supply and for 25.8% of all the energy they consumed in 2012.
The EU has a cap and trade system for reducing carbon emissions, unlike the U.S. and Canada, but recently both California and British Colombia have passed legislation to establish carbon taxation. Naysayers fear that a soft carbon tax will slow down the economy and hurt job creation, but neither of these things have happened in B.C.
In Vancouver a carbon tax went into effect in 2008, passed by B.C.'s provincial government, global recession hit a few months later, but the cities growth rebounded at the same rate as other cities in the country. The revenue from carbon taxes were plowed right back into the economy, they cut taxes for the
two lowest tax brackets and set up a system of quarterly rebates for low income families to offset increased energy prices. The theory is that if you recycle revenues back into people's wallets you can eliminate a drag on the economy (and help many of the 99%). It seems to be working.
The carbon tax revenue is collected at the point of sale for a range of fuels that produce CO2, gas and diesel, home heating fuel and electricity. Sales for all these fuels fell 17.4% in B.C. from 2008-2012, every where else in Canada they went up at least 1.5%.
A case in point involves the changes that have been made at a tile manufacturing plant in Vancouver. They currently use electricity to power their forklifts and natural gas to fuel their kilns. Recycled heat from the kilns is now used to dry the tiles rather than purchasing new equipment to do this job that would burn the fossil fuels that are made more expensive through carbon taxation.
Ultimately, every home and business becomes a study in how to find the cheapest and most effective ways of cutting emissions, but there have to be government incentives along the way to help the public want to make these lifestyle changes. One of the biggest incentives is to show the average resident that the big oil and gas companies, who are major polluters, will now be forced to pay a price for continuing to mine the fossil fuels which send GHG emissions into the atmosphere 24/7.
There is a notion in North American society that we cannot live our lives with reasonable comfort and convenience without depending on oil and gas. We are encouraged to believe this by the industry, but with 2 degrees Celsius looming in the near future the costs and the danger to life and property due to extreme weather events will only
continue to increase.
The issue of sustainability, like so many issues, will live or die depending on the political decisions governments make in the future. Here are two very different examples of how government decision making can have a positive or a negative effect on our lives.
The group Sustainable Prosperity (using provincial statistics) reported that due to carbon taxation in B.C., GHG emissions dropped 10% from 2008-2011, 8.9% more than the total emissions reduction in the whole of Canada for that period.
Contrast that to the numbers from the International Monetary Fund indicating that the lack of a carbon tax in the U.S. equates to the U.S. subsidizing the oil and gas industry by as much as $502 billion a year.
Donna Mclellan for the
Tantramar Alliance Against Hydrofracking