"It is a budget that confronts and completely overturns the outdated notion that you have to choose either a healthy environment or a strong economy. That either-or-thinking belongs to the past." — Former B.C. Finance Minister Carole Taylor
When the B.C. government introduced the carbon tax in 2008 it laid out a path to fight climate change while continuing to stimulate a prosperous economy.
This refreshing and bold leadership positioned B.C. as an innovator and developer of solutions to the greatest challenge of our time — climate change.
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After five years with the carbon tax incentive in place to promote cleaner energy and greener practices, progress is evident.
Since the tax was introduced in 2008, B.C.'s consumption of fossil fuels covered by the carbon tax has decreased by 19 per cent per capita compared to the rest of the country, according to Ottawa-based think tank Sustainable Prosperity. Meanwhile, B.C.'s economy outperformed most of Canada. During this time, B.C. attracted twice the national rate of investment in clean energy. The sector grew by 48 per cent between 2008 and 2010, had $2.5 billion in sales in 2011, and now employs more than 8,400 British Columbians.
It wasn't easy to be the first in North America to introduce a true carbon tax, but it was the right thing to do, in particular because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 scientific assessment underscored the urgent need to introduce policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide or face unprecedented risks to human society.
News of B.C.'s leadership on the carbon tax rippled well beyond our borders. The carbon tax has garnered global praise, most recently in October from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which called it a "textbook example" of a critical policy necessary to build the clean energy economy of the future that can achieve zero-emissions global energy systems over the next 50 years or so.
From the International Energy Agency to the United Nations, to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, respected organizations the world over are calling for a price on carbon. Everyone knows that a pricing system that discourages fossil fuel consumption also creates incentives for conservation and, importantly, for investment in clean energy.
Even big business is ready to sign on. A report last week revealed that more than two dozen of biggest corporations in the United States, including the five major oil companies, Wal-Mart and American Electric Power, are now preparing for government-mandated policies that will see them paying a price for carbon pollution as a way to control global warming.
In Ottawa last week, Shell Canada president Lorraine Mitchelmore called on the Canadian government to get serious about climate policy that includes a price on carbon.
All of this shows there's a growing consensus toward carbon pricing and many companies already incorporate carbon pricing into their long-term financial plans.
So, it was disappointing to see a drop in public support over the past year", from 64 to 52 per cent, for the B.C. carbon tax in a poll we conducted recently with the Environics Institute for Survey Research. But it's not surprising. Often when innovative policies are most successful and a tipping point is near, opposition heats up — as we've seen in the past year with heavy public advertising against the B.C. carbon tax.
The good news is that a majority of British Columbians continue to support the carbon tax, as do other Canadians when asked about such a policy in their own province. At the same time, the drop in support shows that organizations and citizens around the world working to enact an effective response to global warming cannot take good policies for granted, and must continue to defend them from entrenched interests.
During the last B.C. election, Premier Christy Clark said B.C. would freeze the carbon tax incentive for up to five years unless neighbouring jurisdictions caught up put in place carbon-pricing policies.
Those conditions are close to being met. Last month, B.C. forged an agreement with Washington, Oregon and California to create the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. Their plan is to prioritize clean energy and innovation through a strong economic incentive provided by a carbon tax or form thereof. These jurisdictions collectively represent 53 million people, and an economic region with a combined GDP of $2.8-trillion — making it the world's fifth-largest economy.
There will always be those who will try to make a political football out of the right thing to do. We need Premier Clark and her government to once again reinvigorate B.C. leadership on the biggest challenge of our time.
This column was originally published in the Vancouver Sun on December 18, 2013, and is available on the Vancouver Sun's website