U.S. midterms and Canadian climate policy

In a disappointing but not unexpected development, Environment Minister Jim Prentice is saying that if the midterm election puts carbon pricing on hold in the United States, Canada will not proceed either. He says: “We’ve been very clear that we will not go it alone on cap-and-trade legislation” and suggests that if Congress delays consideration of carbon pricing in the U.S., Canada will put it “on the back burner for a continued period of time”.

The first response to this is to remind people that, as Richard Feynman famously said: “reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled”. That remains true no matter how poorly informed your electorate and elected officials are on critical issues. As long as we keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the planet’s threatening warming trend will continue.

Secondly, it is worth pointing out that the lowest-cost, least disruptive way to achieve the transition to carbon neutrality is to start immediately and work gradually. Delay will ultimately make the process more costly and difficult.

Thirdly, for those who think carbon pricing is a socialist scheme to control the economy, it is actually the most hands-off policy that is likely to work. If its implementation is delayed, the policies that will eventually be necessary to fill the gap will be much more expensive and intrusive.

7 thoughts on “U.S. midterms and Canadian climate policy

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  2. .

    The election of a more conservative House of Representatives in the United States will likely slow climate change legislation in that country, a setback that worries environmental activists in Canada.

    “The arrival of a greater number of Republicans in the Congress will certainly not hasten the completion of a climate change bill,” Pierre Sadik, manager of government affairs for the David Suzuki Foundation, said on Tuesday. “It doesn’t bode well for cap-and-trade legislation passing through what was already a difficult environment in the U.S.”

    More Republicans in the House could mean backtracking on a climate change bill that passed the chamber last year and is now before the Senate. That would push back the clock, Mr. Sadik said.

    Canada is bound to be affected by the political shift in the United States, he said, because Canada is in a “wait-and-see mode” on climate change. Ottawa has said it does not want to move ahead unilaterally on cap-and-trade rules (under which greenhouse gas emitters may buy and sell emissions credit), and will work in tandem with the United States.

    If it becomes clear that the U.S. is paralyzed on this issue, or even moving backward, Canada may be forced to move ahead on its own, he said. The pressure will increase as European countries and new economies such as China, India and Brazil gain momentum on climate change policies, he added.

  3. .

    The biggest winners in Canada after Tuesday night’s U.S. midterms are Alberta’s oil producers — branded by many Democrats as purveyors of “dirty oil.”

    Canada watchers on both sides of the U.S. political divide agreed Wednesday that the Tea Party-driven protest vote across the United States would reap political dividends for the oilsands.

    “I think the playing field for Canadian energy will be a little more level now. There will always be the environmental attacks,” said Republican David Wilkins, the Bush administration’s last ambassador to Ottawa.

    “But I think whether you are talking about oilsands, whether you are talking about pipelines, I think the rhetoric will be a little bit less.”

    Democrat Gordon Giffin, who was Bill Clinton’s last Canadian envoy in the late 1990s, said the new Congressional make-up will help to “moderate” debate in the U.S. on energy and environmental issues.

    “I think the probabilities of there being any significant changes in U.S. policy, be it legislative or regulatory that would uniquely disadvantage the oilsands — I think the probabilities of that occurring have gone down,” Giffin said.

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  5. .

    Climate Change Policy

    Hon. Grant Mitchell: Honourable senators, I will ask this question nicely.

    The government established cap-and-trade and certain 2020 targets as our Canadian climate change policy, not because it was good for Canada but because the U.S. was taking many of the same measures and they thought we should follow the U.S.

    Now that the power structure of the government in the U.S. has changed more to the Republican side, unfortunately, will this government continue with what policies it has, such as they were; with what targets they had, such as they were; or will they wait until the U.S. tells them what to do next?

    Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I guess that is the nicest way the honourable senator can ask a question. I will give him his due.

    As I said recently, we support an approach to climate change that achieves real environmental and economic benefits for all Canadians. We continue to work with the Obama administration because the Obama administration is the government that we deal with at that level in the United States to develop clean energy technology and to take a continental approach on climate change. Given our deeply integrated industries, this approach is the only reasonable approach that can be taken. We will continue to work with the Obama administration on our mutual cross-border environmental concerns.

    Senator Mitchell: I know the leader is trying to distance herself from the Republicans. I do not blame her, but they are hanging all over her.

    The U.S. policy, like cap and trade, is dead in the water because of the new Republican influence. It is interesting to think that there is a huge Tea Party influence on the U.S. Republicans. If A equals B equals C, does the minister not draw the conclusion that if the Republicans drive environmental policy in the U.S. and that policy will drive environmental policy here, as her minister has said that it will, then is it not also true that the Tea Party will drive environmental policy in Canada? God help us all.

    Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator has a vivid imagination. He said that the Republicans and the Tea Party are hanging all over me. I have many things hanging all over me but neither the Republicans nor the Tea Party is among that number.

  6. .

    In the U.S. presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain committed to a cap-and-trade system but climate change was hardly mentioned. When Obama took office, the recession and health care consumed all his attention and political capital. Even with Democrats in control of Congress, modest cap-and-trade legislation failed to pass this summer.

    Meantime, the Republican party swung hard right on the issue. In the midterm elections last week, control of the House of Representatives passed to the sort of Republicans who hear “Commie plot” instead of “climate change.” The odds of the U.S. doing something serious are now close to zero.

    And then, with exquisite timing, environment minister Jim Prentice — whose biggest accomplishment was renting some pandas from China — quit the government. His replacement is John Baird. Except this time, the job will only be part-time for Baird, which demonstrates exactly how important it is to Stephen Harper.

    So what does all this tell us about the Prime Minister? Two things. One, his reputation as a master of political strategy is sometimes deserved. Climate change really did jeopardize his government in 2007. He dodged the danger. And he did it without actually doing anything he really didn’t want to do, like putting a price on carbon emissions. The other thing we learned is that Stephen Harper will say anything to win.

    But I suppose we knew that already.

  7. .

    Mr. Bramley said, however, that with the change in ministers, it’s a good opportunity for Canada to change its policy direction from “blindly following” the U.S.’s decisions on climate change.

    “Its previous approach to climate change has really failed,” Mr. Bramley said. “I’m particularly referring to this discredited idea that Canada has to wait for the decisions made in Washington before acting. That’s really become untenable as a result of the U.S. midterm elections. It’s become, more clearly than ever, simply a recipe for delay and inaction. That is clearly no longer a tenable position and having a change in minister is a good opportunity for the government to change its course on that.”

    The U.S. midterm elections were held on Nov. 2. The Democratic Party lost its majority in the House of Representatives, but kept its majority in the U.S. Senate, leaving U.S. President Barack Obama to suggest that he may have difficulty getting his cap and trade bill through Congress. Under Mr. Prentice’s term at environment, Canada had put forth the rhetoric that the two countries were too dependent on each other for Canada to go ahead with it own cap and trade system.

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