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Carbon Tax Won't Make Canada A Climate Leader If Nobody Follows

01/25/2017 01:55 EST | Updated 01/25/2017 02:50 EST

trudeau china

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends the China Entrepreneur Club Leaders Forum in Beijing, China, Aug. 30, 2016. (Photo: Jason Lee)

Welcome to 2017: The Year of the Carbon Tax. The mid-winter chill that ushered in the New Year across Canada is a fitting symbol of the bleak prospects we face under our country's climate "leadership" plans.

When I wrote Canada May Be Carbon Neutral, So Why Are We Keeping It a Secret? several months ago in the National Post, I asserted that Canada's leaders were setting us up to fail by refusing to scientifically measure and claim our fair share of global CO2 absorption.

Since then, the federal government has announced its mandatory national carbon tax plan, and the provinces are joining in with their own questionable schemes. They will tell you that these taxes fulfill our commitments under the Paris Agreement, as if reaching targets that we never should have accepted is the only explanation you should need.

We cannot affect global climate change in any significant way.

What they won't admit is that no matter how much Canadians pay in taxes, or how we change our behaviour, we cannot affect global climate change in any significant way.

That may sound defeatist, especially because Canadians often feel the need to soothe our national psyche by "setting an example for the rest of the world."

However, for examples to be effective, they have to be followed. And no country responsible for a large portion of CO2 emissions has ever followed our environmental lead.

Global fossil fuel use has increased at or above the rate of population growth since the 1960s. Multiple agencies forecast that fossil fuel use is similarly expected to grow at one per cent per year until mid-century.

Case in point: China is by far the planet's largest CO2 emitter, representing 29 per cent of the world's total emissions. China would have to reduce its CO2 emissions by 90 per cent to approach being carbon neutral (i.e. emitting only what their land can absorb). Not going to happen.

paris agreement china

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) stands to hand over documents for the ratification of the Paris climate change agreement during a joint ratification, Sept. 3, 2016. (Photo: How Hwee Young/AFP/Getty Images)

Since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in the mid-1990s, China has doubled its coal-based economy. India has signed onto the Paris Agreement, but still plans to burn more "dirty" coal (produced without modern emissions controls) to fuel their economy.

China and India could have learned from the past mistakes of Western industrial nations and leapfrogged over dirty energy sources and straight into cleaner alternatives. Instead, they chose the cheapest, least innovative, dirtiest way forward.

Developing countries will follow those examples because it leads to perceived prosperity; they'll ignore Canada's example because it leads to perceived sacrifice.

Nowhere is the Canadian government's cognitive dissonance more obvious than in its desire to bend over backwards to increase relations with China, considering the latter's unsustainable population, human rights abuses, “dirty” coal economy, and ravenous appetite for our jobs.

They'll ignore Canada's example because it leads to perceived sacrifice.

Since our government has decided in error to levy a carbon tax on Canadians, the least it could do is levy a carbon tax on dirty imports from places like China. Yes, such levies would increase the price of some consumer goods, but so will a carbon tax. Aren't Canadian jobs more important than more cheap, imported junk?

Various organizations like the Canadian Ecofiscal Commission, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and EcoJustice Canada assert that a carefully designed 'border carbon adjustment' must be considered for inclusion in any fair carbon tax policy.

Preferential treatment for imports from the planet's worst polluters while taxing Canadians? Something doesn't add up.

At his pay-for-access fundraising dinners, does Justin Trudeau remind his Chinese billionaire guests how many ordinary citizens die in China from coal pollution-related illness in order to produce their wealth? Does he make it clear that it's not Canada's job to fix China's massive CO2 imbalance problem? I hope he does, but I doubt it.

Simply put, climate change does not originate in Canada, but we're being taxed. Climate change is "Made in China," but they get off scot-free.

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Smoke billows from the chimneys of a factory in Dalian, China, Jan. 17, 2017. (Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Regardless of how we deal with trade, we need to admit one simple truth: handicapping Canadians with a tax will have zero effect on global climate change. However, that doesn't mean we can't exert influence and pursue real solutions.

Canada could call all the fossil fuel producing nations of the world together to work out a climate sensitive, price-fixing and supply management plan that would effectively solve the climate change problem. The new group's goal would be to establish a global agreement on sustainable supply levels and higher prices.

If the various nations cooperated and agreed, Canada would be commended for brokering a deal that makes a positive impact on the world climate. We would also be able to negotiate our fair share of market access.

Conversely, if other major fossil fuel-producing nations refused to cooperate, at least Canada could stop pretending that our gestures of good faith are meaningful or that our willingness to sacrifice our economic future via a carbon tax is appreciated or reciprocated.

We need to admit one simple truth: handicapping Canadians with a tax will have zero effect on global climate change.

Of course, such a cartel-style approach is less than perfect, but it’s hard to believe a cartel could hurt Canadians more than the current “solution” of going it alone. For instance, Canada's recent 'Mid-Century Strategy for a Clean Growth Economy' submission to the United Nations lays out the path to reducing our CO2 emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.

In that scenario, Canada's fossil fuel industry, the biggest economic driver in our country, will basically wither and die while the world industry continues to grow.

The end of the Canadian fossil fuel industry might be some activists' dream, but what would replace it? The idea of an entirely "green" or "knowledge-based" economy is built on the assumption that those new jobs won't be lost to outsourcing and automation like our old manufacturing and service jobs were. That requires blind faith in our politicians, and seems likely to fail.

Canadians deserve a fair climate policy that acknowledges the importance of our natural carbon sinks, treats foreign goods no better than Canadian-made ones, and demands that the biggest net polluters do the heaviest lifting to reverse climate change.

Instead, our leaders refuse to demand that Canada get its due credit for mitigating CO2, they obtusely ignore our reality within the global context, they tax us under the auspices of impacting climate change, and then they bully us with taxpayer-funded propaganda campaigns.

Our governments were setting us up to fail in 2016, and they're knocking us down in 2017. If Canadians weren't so polite, we'd be outraged by this kind of climate injustice.

Larry Martin served as deputy minister to the premier of Saskatchewan, and assistant deputy minister of rural development and intergovernmental affairs in Manitoba. He is retired and lives in Canmore, Alberta.

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Global Climate Agreement -- December 2015