By Molly McCracken
Climate change poses extreme risks for all our families, communities and province. As elected officials you represent all Manitobans and have a responsibility to act in the face of threats.
The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change says we only have 12 years to change to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg’s Climate Atlas for Manitoba finds that we are a trajectory for a high carbon future. This will impact agriculture via more droughts. Hotter summers will result in more, larger and intense forest fires. Manitoba will have floods in the spring and then droughts in the summer. These will have huge economic costs to the province, the business sector and in human suffering. This is a catastrophe in the making unless we make drastic changes now.
- We must work back from our goal
In 2016 in Paris, Canada committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Many scientists were critical of the Paris commitments not going far enough. The United Nations itself audited the Paris agreement and said that it would only limit rising earth’s temperatures to 3 degrees Celsius warmer by 2100, relative to preindustrial levels.
So even what was agreed to in Paris does not go far enough. But it’s what we have to work from as a goal.
This past August Harvey Stevens, a well-respected former civil servant and quantitative researcher released “An Analysis of Manitoba’s Proposed Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Contained in the Manitoba Climate and Green Plan” published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba.
Stevens writes that the Paris commitment to Manitoba means that by 2030, the GHG emissions for that year have to be 14,158 Kt. They were 20,936 in 2016. They must be reduced substantially but the Made in Manitoba Climate and Green Plan falls short of this goal:
- It does not address the fixed goal of GHG emissions by 2030 but instead uses cumulative reductions over time. It sets no cumulative reduction target. This is not the standard method of reporting; all countries report to the United Nations using total annual emissions.
- It sets out five cumulative pathways, the most aggressive falls short of the needed 2030 goal by 1,400 kt or 1.4 million tonnes. The social cost of carbon is estimated at $50 – $200 per tonne on agriculture, forests, water availability and pests. This means this shortfall could cost Manitoba and Canada $70 million to $280 million dollars.
- The carbon accounting system described in sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act is not clear on how it will measure how Manitoba will be “Canada’s cleanest, greenest and most climate resilient province”.
Stevens reviewed the EC-Pro report commissioned by the province for the Climate Plan. This report compared the current federal plan of $10/ tonne / year increase between 2018 and 2022 with no further increase to one that continuously increases up to $130/ tonne by 2030. The EC-Pro numbers find that the price on carbon would have to continue to increase $6.78/ tonne/ year to prevent an increase in GHG emissions.
Stevens found that the reports commissioned by the province said that a carbon tax is needed and it must be high enough to reduce emissions. But instead this government is ignoring these reports and backed out of the provincial carbon tax.
Now that the federal backstop will apply to Manitoba, the provincial government should do nothing more to fight this.
- Climate action must be fair
The Ecofiscal commission’s report Provincial Carbon Pricing and Household Fairness identifies that a price on carbon affects household budgets differently as it increase the prices of emissions-intensive goods and services, which represent a larger share of expenditures for lower-income households. The Ecofiscal commission estimates the cost of a $30 carbon tax on a household with incomes below $50,000/ year is $288/ year. The federal “Climate Action Plan” incentive will pay a family $685 when the carbon tax rises to $30/ tonne in 2021. It is more than sufficient to cover the costs for low income households; there is plenty of room to compensate households and retain carbon tax revenue to invest in green infrastructure to help households get off of carbon. Households alone will have a hard time doing this.
A price on carbon is like the stick, and it must be matched with the carrot – help for families to get off carbon. These are items to reduce carbon costs by supporting better, more affordable public transit, affordable local food and home energy retrofits.
- The Climate and Green Plan cannot be done in isolation of other government policy.
This act replaces the Sustainable Development Act. Important provisions will be lost and should be reinstated:
- Regulatory codes and standards for green buildings and green vehicles
- Principles and Guidelines for Sustainable development. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to 2030 are widely used, by the United Way Winnipeg and Economic Development Winnipeg locally. These should be used.
Currently the Plan completely ignores government’s actions that will increase GHG emissions:
- The Minister of Agriculture wants to increase the number of cattle from 400,000 to 750,000. This will increase GHG emissions 789 kt / year for a social cost of carbon of $39 million – $157 million
- The hog industry is calling for 1.2 million more hogs over the next 5 – 10 years. This will add an additional 251 kt/ year for a social cost of carbon of $12.5 million – $50.2 million
There is nothing in the plan to address these new emitters. The cumulative emissions reduction metric described in 7(2) only considers measures that lead to a reduction in emissions, not those that lead to an increase in emissions such as an increase of cattle or hogs.
Annual emissions by sector should be included in the reporting.
Moreover, there are currently no details in the Climate and Green Plan on implementation.
Recent government actions undermine these goals. For example, unilaterally ending the 50/50 cost sharing agreement with the City of Winnipeg on transit, a loss of $5 million in 2018. Transit ridership is lower today than 20 years ago. Transportation is the largest GHG emitter in Manitoba and we need to improve public transit to get people out of their cars across the province.
Earlier this month William Nordhaus and Paul Romer won the Nobel Prize in economics for their work studying the consequences of climate policies such as carbon taxes. Their key recommendation is that governments, corporations and households should have to pay a rising price on carbon emissions. This is what’s called internalizing the externalities of the costs of carbon to all of us.
British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008. The tax covers most types of fossil fuels. According to Professor Stewart Elgie of the University of Ottawa and Richard Lipsey of Simon Fraser University:
“Since it came in, B.C.’s total use of fuels has dropped by 16.1% (2008-13). By contrast, in the rest of Canada fuel use went up by 3% over that time. B.C.’s dramatic drop since the tax marks a big change from the previous eight years (2000-2008), when its fuel use was actually rising slightly compared to the rest of Canada’s. (These results reflect the latest available Statistics Canada data, and were published in a leading research journal.)” BC’s GDP outperformed the rest of Canada’s since the carbon tax began.
- Action is an insurance policy on the future. The insurance sector warned of the effects of climate change as early as 1973, and continues evolving its business model, including increasing rates, to adapt to the changes. The Fort McMurray fire is attributable to climate change and cost the insurance industry between $5 billion and $9 billion, which is passed on to property owners and businesses.
If anti-tax business interest groups think that any government can prepare for climate change – including the disproportionate impact it will have on the poor, and creating green infrastructure – all without somehow increasing revenues- it needs to get a reality check from those in the insurance sector who are increasing their revenue as they understand the world we find ourselves in.
And yet this provincial government is bent on placating these business interests and cutting taxes and bringing down the deficit at the same time. This austerity at a time of climate crisis is irresponsible and will create undue burden on future generations.
The province could do a number of things to bring in new revenue: keep the PST at 8% and direct money to make life affordable in a post-carbon Manitoba and introduce mobility pricing so cars pay the full cost of using roads. There are other options for revenue to incent behaviour change to fight climate change. The current trust fund the province has created will yield only peanuts compared to the scale of the problem.
CCPA MB Research Associate Mark Hudson also presented on Bill 16 as well, see “Manitoba’s Climate and Green Plan: a Catastrophic Failure of Leadership“
Bill 16 was passed by passed committee on October 25, 2018. It moves to the Report Stage, one step closer to Royal Assent & becoming law.
 Ackerman, F. and E. Stanton, 2011. Climate Risks and Carbon Prices: Revising the Social Cost of Carbon, published by Economics for Equity and Environment network. Available at: www.e3network.org/social_cost_carbon.html
 Households below $29,783/ year will spend $155/ year on a $30 price of carbon or 0.7% of their income. Households earning up to $45,732 will spend $288 or 0.6% of income. They conclude that while there is a cost to households, this does not preclude action as we must act to address climate change.