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Harder choices on global warming

Mark Jaccard advocates stricter policies, penalties to address greenhouse gas emissions



By Andrew Mitchell

One of Canada’s leading experts on the economy and resource management had a few tough messages for the Whistler Forum for Dialogue on Tuesday night on the topic of climate change — namely that Canada will not meet its Kyoto obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, that fossil fuels will continue to play a role meeting our energy needs for a long time to come, and that any solution to the issue will require taxing and storing carbon emissions.

It was a packed room at the Telus Conference Centre as almost 200 members of the community turned out to hear a presentation by Dr. Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, and one of Canada’s leading consultants on the climate change policies and environmental economics. Some of the attendees included Sea to Sky MP Blair Wilson, Mayor Ken Melamed, and Councillors Gord McKeever, Bob Lorriman and Tim Wake.

Although Dr. Jaccard lauded all of Whistler’s ongoing efforts to become more sustainable and to wean the community off of fossil fuels, he says those efforts will be essentially meaningless unless the Canadian government, and other world governments, takes a series of difficult, and politically unpopular steps to regulate and tax our carbon emissions.

“I’m part of a group that has studied this from every angle, and our conclusion is that we can’t get there (to Kyoto) without government taking steps to penalize us for making greenhouse gases,” he said. “When Canada was first looking at this in 1989 we submitted a model which included a tax of $150 a tonne of carbon dioxide. That would double the price of gas, but it’s what we would need to meet our Kyoto obligations, just barely. Without this it doesn’t matter what else we do, emissions will keep climbing.

“It’s good these days to hear politicians like Stephen Harper and Gordon Campbell talk about emissions targets… but without hard-nosed policies to show people how to get there it will fail.”

Since most subsidy and incentive programs do not work — Dr. Jaccard used the example of a new tax benefit for taking public transit that fewer than one per cent of car owners said they would use — he suggests implementing a $15 per tonne tax on greenhouse gases immediately, with a schedule for increasing that tax to the $150 mark in the next 10 years.

“It can’t be subsidies,” he said, citing the general failure of voluntary greenhouse gas reduction programs. “If there is an incentive for people to switch to natural gas, they put in patio heaters. If you offer an incentive for energy efficient fridges, they’ll buy a bigger fridge for their kitchen and put the old fridge downstairs.”

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