Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The case for Ignatieff's environmental policy

The central focus of Michael Ignatieff's plan to reduce carbon emissions is carbon pricing, whether that be through a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. There are many good reasons for advocating carbon pricing. In fact, Harper, due to his policy of shadowing American environmental policy is being forced to admit that carbon pricing is not as evil as he once portray it to be.

Here is the case for carbon pricing:

1. Assuming the quasi-universally accepted proposition that global warming is the result of carbon emissions linked to human activity, it is clear that the necessary response is to change human behaviour. This has to be done throughout society, especially at the industrial level. To change behaviour so that cuts in emissions can be made, a price should be put on carbon, in the form of either a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. These systems discourage the use of carbon and encourage a more efficient use of carbon, technological innovations, and shifts in the economy, as much as possible.

2. The Economist and economists in general see such a carbon price as an insurance policy against the uncertainties of climate change. It is estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN sanctioned scientific body, that global temperature will rise by 1.1-6.4 degrees by the end of the century. Suffice it to say that if temperatures do rise by 6.4 degrees, the results would be catastrophic. By instituting a carbon price and thus regulating and capping emissions, we can eliminate most of this uncertainty and reliably limit temperature change to 2 degrees or less.

3. The reason this insurance policy is the reasonable route to take for policymakers and politicians is that the costs of doing so are well within the range that can be afforded. The Lord Stern report, commissioned by then British PM Tony Blair, estimates that to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees would cost at most 5% of GDP at the end of the century. However, Stern estimates that if carbon pricing policy is implemented efficiently the most likely result would be a cost of 1% of GDP. Comparatively, it cost 5% of last year’s GDP to bail out the banks.

4. The fact is that if we do not engage in carbon pricing, the adverse effects of global warming will increase dramatically. There will be increased droughts, famines, floods, freak storms and heat waves. What’s more, these will disproportionately assail the developing world, which has not contributed as much historically, and is still contributing less, as the developed world to global emissions. When my honourable opponent mentions the moral dilemma, this is where it really lies, as many more will be affected by inactivity on climate change than by carbon pricing. And they shoulder a lot less of the responsibility for global warming than those that work in carbon intensive industries.

5. Moreover, those whose livelihoods depend on such industries as the tar sands in Alberta will not be left without a job. One of the aims of carbon pricing is to encourage the development of green industries, such as building renewable energy sources. With proper job retraining, which could be funded through money collected through carbon pricing, some workers could transfer to new industries.

6. Furthermore, it is expected that carbon intensive industries would either become more efficient or develop new technologies. If this is the case, there would be no need for these industries to disappear. All that is needed is for them to adapt.

7. The problem with geoengineering is that it is unproven and could even have adverse effects of its own. Some of these include changes in weather patterns or could present danger to wildlife. It is very possible that many of these schemes, from creating sulphate clouds to dissolving CO2 in the oceans could disrupt many ecosystems. Whereas with carbon pricing we are sure of its effects: increased carbon efficiency, stimulated innovation in green technologies, and necessary restructuring of the economy.

8. Carbon pricing is the only policy that allows us to cut global emissions by 25-40% by 2020. This is the cut required to mitigate global warming and contain it in the 2-3 degree range. Therefore, if we do not institute carbon pricing, global warming will be beyond our control.
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