09/26/2018 14:47 EDT | Updated 09/26/2018 14:48 EDT

Governments Can Support Fossil Fuels And A Climate Policy Simultaneously

Despite the political need to do more, to put it bluntly, you have to make the best of what is available.

Science has demonstrated that climate change is a real threat. However, policy-making on climate change has transcended science, as more science will not sway the political polarization. The fight has now become a political one.

An effective policy on climate change starts with creating a value on carbon, and Canada's first serious attempt to do this is only just rolling out: the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. There was the expected backlash from the Conservatives that ranted against the policy, using the battle-cry of no "carbon tax" to inflame voters. Andrew Scheer has expressed his desire to liberate Canada from the evil carbon taxes that will surely hurt the economy and kill jobs (a more extreme measure has been proposed by premier Doug Ford of Ontario, who is planning to sue the federal government over the carbon agreement).

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna addresses the media in Saskatoon, Sask., Sept. 12, 2018.

These political spins have been used for decades by climate deniers, and the propaganda never fails to incite some voters and catch the attention of the press. Opposition to a "carbon tax" is fine, as long as you have a better plan to reduce carbon emissions; however, the Conservatives do not even have a plan, better or worse.

The roll-out of the federal program seemed to be going smoothly until premier John Horgan of B.C. threw "oil on the fire" by threatening to block the Trans Mountain pipeline. In an attempt to keep Alberta within the carbon-pricing agreement, the federal government took a creative, yet controversial, step by buying the pipeline.

I am not commenting on the recent court ruling, but I do wish to remark on the decision to buy the pipeline, which caused so much outrage among environmentalists. I did not see it the way they did, even though I believe in the threat of climate change. I have followed policy initiatives on climate change in North America for many years and have been frustrated by how little is ever accomplished. The Pan-Canadian Framework is one of the best that I have seen.

The pipeline was a non-negotiable item to Alberta, and, of course, Andrew Scheer supports the building of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Politics demands compromises that ideally one would wish not to do. For the Canadian federal government, there are only two potentially realistic choices: carbon-pricing legislation across Canada with a pipeline, or no carbon pricing at all. While no one knows if the Pan-Canadian Framework will succeed with the pipeline, we know it has no chance without it.

My greatest disappointment is with climate advocates who lambasted the Liberal government for buying the pipeline. Especially disconcerting was the recent demand of Canada's high-profile environmental activist, David Suzuki, who called for the resignation of the "hypocrite" Catherine McKenna, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, when he was campaigning for the Green Party in the New Brunswick provincial election.

Suzuki's comments reflect the views of many environmentalists, who believe that a government cannot support fossil fuels and climate policy at the same time. Of course, they can; more so, any responsible government must. No country has ever impeded their economy materially with climate legislation (which I discussed in my book Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol). In any case, the pipeline acquisition was simply an attempt to save carbon pricing and other aspects of the Pan-Canadian Framework. The attacks by Conservatives are one thing, but when Dr. Suzuki joins them, he is aiding and abetting their plans to unravel the climate policy. Of course, their motivations are the not the same, but the results are no different.

David Suzuki has been a relentless fighter to protect the environment of this country, and his intentions are not being questioned. This criticism is not restricted to him but to the environmental movement overall, as any climate proposal by government will never be enough. Despite the political need to do more, to put it bluntly, you have to make the best of what is available. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister Catherine McKenna are not the enemies of carbon emission reductions and supporting the pipeline is not hypocritical: the pipeline is a mechanism to get to the strongest climate policy that Canada has ever had.

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