Is Trudeau a Climate Leader? A Look into the National Carbon Price

This blog was written by Jacob Ke, a volunteer blogger at GreenPAC. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of GreenPAC.

We were promised an environmental leader when young Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, took over approximately one year ago. 

Throughout the past thirteen months, Trudeau increased the funds towards environmental research and initiatives, ratified the Paris Agreement, began to phase out coal, and then flipped around and approved projects that will be disastrous for the climate. Now, after all but Saskatchewan and Manitoba agreed to Canada’s first carbon price, Trudeau’s team promises his plan will bring “[emission] reductions across all sectors of the economy”. What is the carbon price? Why don’t all provinces sign on to it? Will it really reduce our emissions? Let’s break it down.

It all started when Trudeau met with the premiers in early Oct 2016. It was at this meeting that Trudeau suddenly announced a national carbon tax plan, which would be carried out in 2018 to comply with the newly ratified Paris Agreement. Trudeau’s plan demands provinces and territories to develop their own carbon-pricing strategies, which need to follow a minimum carbon tax of $10 per ton by 2018. Alternatively, they can use a cap-and-trade system that supports an equivalent carbon pricing floor. If the province or territory fails to do so, the federal government will implement its own tax. Trudeau confirmed last Friday at the first meeting with the Premiers that "the benchmark that we announced in October will continue to apply across the country, with $10 a tonne in 2018 rising to $50 a tonne by 2022, across 100 per cent of this country." The effort is made to keep the average global temperature well below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and possibly below 1.5 degree Celsius.

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Disconnect with the Provinces

The effectiveness of the proposed carbon-pricing strategy remains controversial. First of all, provinces and territories in Canada may find themselves in very different positions in terms of developing a carbon-pricing system. Some provinces, like Quebec, Ontario and B.C., are more prepared than Saskatchewan, which needs to set up its carbon-pricing strategy basically from scratch. Second, some provinces are upset that the decision was made without their input, much like the ratification of the Paris Agreement. Douglas Macdonald, an environmental policy professor at the University of Toronto, pointed out the awkward relationship between the federal government and the provincial government on this carbon pricing issue. When Trudeau surprised the environment ministers with the carbon tax plan, ministers from Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador left the meeting early.

Another unsettled question is that how the revenues from the carbon tax will be used. Trudeau assured that the revenues would remain in the province where they are collected, but the overall mitigation benefits need to be evenly distributed in order to keep all the provinces on board. That means the federal government will have to be extremely careful with the way it recycles revenues and evaluates provincial carbon prices.

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Effect on Canada's Emissions

Will the national carbon tax ensure we meet our emissions targets? In light of recent pipeline approvals, and the shadow of further approvals looming, environmentalists are skeptical. The GHG emission target that Canada submitted to the UNFCCC in May 2015 indicated a 30% reduction below the country’s 2005 levels by 2030. Our 2050 target is a cut in emissions by 80%. A national carbon-pricing strategy fulfils Trudeau’s promise on tackling climate change in Canada, and pushes provinces and territories to take climate action, but it is not ambitious enough. The current plan won’t cover emissions in all provinces, boost the cost effectiveness of a national carbon-pricing system, and reduce emissions nationwide.

Canada desperately needs to cut down its carbon emissions in the near future. It goes without saying that the transition to a cleaner Canada will be costly, but it is critical that we treat climate change as a very real threat to our economy, health, and the future of our children. Kim Perrotta, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), said it best in an interview with The Energy Mix. “Climate change is a public health emergency,” she said. “We applaud the carbon taxes, the promise to phase out coal plants, the commitments to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public transit…But we want to see numbers that demonstrate how we will meet our global commitments.” 


Jacob Ke graduated from University of Toronto with a double major in Environmental Studies and Human Geography, and a minor in GIS. He is passionate about climate change, environmental sustainability and food systems, and hopes to pursue a career in environmental science and conservation biology.

Photos: 1) Justin Trudeau 2) Barry Saxifrage

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