The argument for how a carbon tax would lower greenhouse gas emissions was featured at the Building SustainABLE Communities conference in Kelowna this week. Photo credit: Contributed

Championing the carbon tax strategy

Economist touts carbon pricing as best tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Donald Trump may be the best thing that ever happened to Canada’s clean energy sector.

Since Trump was elected U.S. president last November, he has steadfastly supported the fossil fuel industry and development of “good clean, coal,” reinforced by anti-climate change, anti-science conservative train of thought controlling the ruling Republican Party.

In doing so, Trump has abandoned his country’s slow shift under his predecessor Barrack Obama to embrace the potential for clean energy technology development.

Tom Rand, a clean energy entrepreneur, said the reality Trump chooses to ignore at his country’s economic peril is clean energy will be a $2 trillion global industry by 2025.

“Canada is in a position for getting two per cent of that just by showing up and acknowledging a desire to be part of that change. But the U.S. is walking away from that so there is a real opportunity there for Canada to get a far greater share of that economic growth,” said Rand.

Rand talked about clean energy sector’s economic opportunities at the Building SustainABLE Communities conference held this week in Kelowna.

Rand said clean energy technology development will need support from the government to fund research and development initiatives because that is what fuels business product and service growth.

“The private sector doesn’t do R&D. We develop products and manufacturing ideas from that research but we don’t have the capacity to do that ourselves,” Rand said.

He applauded the federal Liberal government’s additional $1.4 billion in funding for clean energy research administered by Export Development Canada.

Rand added we need to move past two debate points—are greenhouse gas emissions a concern and the merits of employing a carbon tax system—and embrace the “real debate about how to redistribute carbon tax revenue back into the economic system.”

Speaking to that issue at the conference was Christopher Ragan, a McGill University economics professor and chair of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, who said carbon pricing is the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while still growing the economy.

He said changing our lifestyle through cost of living is a better alternative to government regulation.

“Everything we do in our lives is about price, from shopping to travel to housing. There is a reason that people in France don’t drive big trucks or big cars. Because the cost of gasoline is so expensive,” Ragan said.

“We will do things differently if there is a cost-benefit to do so.”

As opposed to the perception of carbon tax being an economic burden, Ragan argues carbon pricing encourages clean energy development delivered on a cost effective basis, mobilizes clean sector technology development and encourages entrepreneurs to meet a growing demand for clean energy products in Canada and abroad. He said that’s the case most notably in China, where that country’s political leaders have set ambitious goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the face of escalating pollution issues.

“Carbon tax is sometimes referred to as a job killer, but the single greatest job killer is the corporate tax and we show no sign of getting rid of that,” he said.

Ragan says carbon tax revenue can be redistributed to both individual taxpayers and businesses to off-set higher living costs and the impact of change.

He said examples of that at the provincial government level are already being carried out in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

The revenue generated from a carbon tax to help reduce greenhouse emissions can be recycled back to potentially reduce taxes, cut monthly cheques for low-income households, support green energy initiatives or finance infrastructure improvements, he argued.

“There is no right answer to how that is done, but if you don’t give the money back it just feeds a greater expansion of government. Jean Charest and Preston Manning sit on the ecofiscal commission. Politically, they agree on absolutely nothing but they do when it comes to climate change and carbon pricing.”

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