Thursday, 15 October 2015

Canadian climate policy and your vote

“Policy academics are cheap dates.” One of my mentors, professor Aiden Vining, loved saying that. His point was that we policy academics will gladly pay for our own dinner if we think that a politician, of any political stripe, wants our advice. This explains why, in my 30 years of climate policy research, I have willingly advised Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Greens, sometimes when in power, sometimes in opposition. Once, a politician actually paid for my dinner – at McDonalds.

I have learned some things that are relevant to this federal election. One lesson is that climate policy is really, really hard. Our political system has strong incentives for politicians not to implement effective climate policies. To be effective, policies must either price CO2 emissions or regulate CO2-causing fuels and technologies. These compulsory policies impose short-term costs (real and perceived) on some people, some of whom will wage war on the guilty politician. As in all wars, truth is the first casualty: the climate policy and its implementing politician will be blamed for completely unrelated misfortunes by these people, powerful backers, and a media that loves attacking politicians.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015

Executive Summary
Over the past three decades, governments in developed countries have made many commitments to reduce a specific quantity or percentage of greenhouse gases by a specific date, but often they have failed to implement effective climate policies that would achieve their commitment. Fortunately, energy-economy analysts can determine well in advance of the target date if a government is keeping its promise. In this 2015 climate policy report card, I evaluate the Canadian government’s emission commitments and policy actions. I find that in the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no polices that would materially reduce emissions. The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy. And this may also be the case for the 2050 target, this latter requiring an almost complete transformation of the Canadian energy system in the remaining 35 years after almost a decade of inaction.

Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015

A critical challenge to preventing the harms from human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2 from burning fossil fuels, is that elected representatives face weak incentives to implement effective climate policies and strong incentives to implement no or ineffective policies. There are several reasons.page2image2912

First, significant CO2 emissions reductions require ‘compulsory policies’ – regulation of technologies and energy forms and/or pricing of CO2 emissions – and these are seen to cause immediate costs for some even though the long-term benefits for society exceed these costs. These immediate costs would begin during the mandate of current politicians, and have significant political risks, while the benefits of avoiding climate change will mostly occur after the career of current political leaders.