Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer released his long-awaited climate change plan Wednesday, June 19.
Scheer has been pressured to release his own climate plan, since he has made a lot of political hay criticizing the Liberal government’s plan, with most of his criticism focused on a national carbon tax.
The plan Scheer released Wednesday is largely an “underwhelming” one that contains a couple of nuggets that climate policy experts like – a focus on small modular nuclear power, for example, and energy corridors – but which otherwise fails to address major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as the transportation sector and coal power.
It also includes a tax credit scheme that promises to benefit Canada’s clean-tech sector.
It also includes a few random odd-duck policies that have little, if anything, to do with reducing greenhouse gases – a crackdown on illegal hunting and fishing, for example.
“The Conservative document is built on three pillars, none of which do much to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint: research and development, environmental protection (a separate issue from climate change), and global emissions,” Dan Woynillowicz, policy director for Clean Energy Canada, said in a press release.
The plan affirms Canada’s pledge to the Paris Agreement – a 30% reduction of 2005 GHG levels by 2030 – but is fuzzy on how to get there.
The plan does away with a national economy-wide carbon tax, but does include a form of carbon pricing for large industrial emitters.
“It’s effectively a carbon price without naming the price,” said Chris Bataille, associate researcher with Simon Fraser University’s Canadian Energy and Emissions Data Centre.
The Conservative plan would actually cover more large emitters than what is covered by other federal policies by lowering the benchmark from 50 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year down to 40 kt CO2e per year. In other words, it would apply to more industrial emitters.
Those that exceed their allowed intensity would have to pay a levy, the proceeds of which would go into clean energy. But no actual price has been determined.
“It’s not clear what the benchmarks and thresholds for industries would be – so what limit beyond which they would have to pay – or how much they would pay beyond that limit,” said Jason Dion, lead researcher for the Ecofiscal Commission.
“It’s really unclear what this new system would be, and that uncertainty is not good for business and industry.”
He added: “The plan doesn’t include the carbon levy on transportation fuels and home heating fuels, so that’s a big gap in the plan in terms of how Canada would reduce its emissions from those sources.”
It’s also not clear whether Scheer’s new large emitters standard would apply in B.C.
The federal Liberal carbon tax doesn’t apply in B.C. because the province already has a carbon tax. The federal carbon tax is a backstop that only applies to those provinces that don’t have carbon pricing.
Whether Sheer’s new large emitter standard would apply to LNG Canada, for example, is unclear.
Dion suspects it will work similar to the current “equivalency” rules, in which case it would not apply for B.C. industries.
“Again, there’ a lot of detail lacking there in terms of how the interactions with the federal and provincial systems would work,” Dion said.
The plan would benefit Canada’s clean-the sector because levies applied to large emitters would go into a Green Investment Standards fund, to be invested in research, development and adoption of clean technologies.
Also, a new Green Patent Credit would reduce the current business tax rate from 15% to just 5% as an incentive for companies that do research, development and commercialization of clean technologies.
While that could be a significant incentive for the clean-tech sector, unless those technologies are adopted at home, any emissions reductions that they achieve will be exported to whichever company buys the technology. In other words, it might actually help some other country reduce their emissions, but might not help Canada meet its own targets.
“The plan also seems to include this idea that we can get credit internationally for the effect of our low carbon exports,” Dion said. “While it is important to pursue these low carbon exports and to do what we can internationally, we can’t get credit for it. The system doesn’t work that way.”
For homeowners, Scheer’s plan proposes a green homes tax credit, in which homeowners would be eligible for a 20% refundable income tax credit for investments made home energy efficiency. That could range from better insulation to solar panels.
The credit would apply to investments of $1,000 and up to $20,000 for home energy efficiency.
The plan appears not to address two of the biggest sources of emissions – coal power and transportation.
The Liberal government’s plan includes a phase-out of coal power by 2030, and a number of policies designed to lower the transportation sector’s emissions.
Scheer’s plan appears to ignore those two big sources of emissions. The plan gives a passing mention to the role small modular nuclear power can play in provide zero emission electricity.
“We’re often mentioned as a country with a very reasonable and sophisticated nuclear regulatory regime,” Bataille said. “For that reason there are several small modular nuclear companies that have established themselves in Ontario, and that could be a big thing some day.”
But nuclear power as a policy gets but two sentences in the plan.
“It’s obviously not that well developed,” Bataille said.
While he found the Conservative plan generally "underwhelming," Bataille said it does contain one "relatively sophisticated" idea for a pan-Canadian energy corridor, which would provide the kind of interprovincial grid integration that could help the country move towards greater electrification of the economy.
“If we were to actually come to some consensus on transitional energy policy, we need transport corridors for electricity – like high voltage transmission power lines – and gas pipelines. There needs to be some more pan-Canadian thinking about integrating our energy systems.”