What I found in the Tories’ climate-change announcement

I am certainly disappointed by what I read in the Conservatives’ much-anticipated plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gases. I won’t say much at this point lest I scoop the Citizen‘s editorial on the subject (UPDATE: That editorial is now online here), but I’ll quickly address the things I said yesterday that I’d be looking for.

Projections of Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions in 2020. Baird offers clarity on this point, anticipating that the measures he’s planning will reduce our emissions to 150 megatonnes of CO2 below 2006 levels by 2020. In other words, to about 600 megatonnes. Our Kyoto target was 560 megatonnes by 2012 (more or less), so that’s out the window, but there are no obvious cheats in the target-setting.

The price of carbon offsets and The price of investing in a technology fund. The government intends to let heavy industry buy emissions credits by contributing to a technology fund charging $15 per tonne initially, then $20 per tonne down the line, subsequently rising with national economic growth. This is cheap by any standard, and particularly problematic because it sets a cap on what a company will spend on improving its own operations — it’d make no sense to make any efficiency moves that cost more than $15 per tonne of emissions saved. I would not be at all surprised if, 10 years from now, most companies are buying the right to pollute this way.

Anything resembling a carbon tax. No.

What’s this thing supposed to cost? $8 billion to the total economy in the most expensive year, though that includes the anti-smog measures, which are significant and not strictly part of the greenhouse-gas issue. This is offset by a guesstimated $6.4 billion in health-care savings from having fewer people going to hospital with asthma and whatnot.

The elephant in the room. The Conservatives are going with intensity-based emissions caps, not hard caps. If the oilsands continue to boom — and why wouldn’t they — their emissions can continue to rise. If someone wants to open a new factory, they can do so without significant concern about its carbon impact. The 150-megatonne cut is a projection (based on data not provided), not a promise.

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