As Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer has reported, average Canadian households are already paying hundreds of dollars more in carbon taxes every year than they receive in rebates.
Yves Giroux says those costs – the result of the negative impact of carbon pricing on the economy – will rise every year as the carbon tax increases from $65 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions this year to $170 per tonne in 2030.
Meanwhile, more costs are looming for Canadians in the form of clean fuel and clean electricity regulations that don’t include rebates.
But no matter how high costs go, as Giroux also reported, it will have no impact on the incidence of severe weather in Canada or anywhere else, because our emissions, 1.5% of the global total, are too small to materially impact climate change.
But for today, let’s accept the argument by supporters of carbon pricing that the cost of doing nothing will be much higher and we have to do our part to lower global emissions.
Of course, if that’s going to work, the global system for reporting and reducing emissions has to be ethical and effective.
It is neither of those things.
While the annual rate of increase in global energy-related emissions has slowed in recent years, they nonetheless were at their highest level in human history last year.
The root problem is that the system by which the 196 countries that are parties to the United Nations 2015 Paris climate agreement report their emissions to the UN is deeply flawed.
Countries have vastly different methods of reporting emissions, many haven’t reported them for years, others under report them.
When the Washington Post conducted an investigation of this in November 2021 titled “Countries’ climate pledges built on flawed data,” it found only 45 countries (including Canada) of 196 reported emissions in 2019, the most recent data available at the time.
When it added up reported, predicted and estimated emissions from all industrial and natural sources globally – using a model to estimate what countries that failed to report emissions would likely have reported had they done so – it came up with a figure of 44.2 billion U.S. tons of emissions.
It then compared that to independent global emissions data from a variety of sources, concluding actual emissions were between 8.5 billion and 13.3 billion U.S. tons higher than 44.2 billion.
“At the low end”, the Post reported, “the gap is larger than the yearly emissions of the United States,” the world’s second-biggest emitter.
“At the high end” unreported emissions are close to China’s, the world’s biggest emitter, the Post said.
Obviously, if emissions reporting is not accurate, efforts to reduce them to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100 will fail.
Another major issue according to a Sept. 19 report in the U.K. Guardian – “Revealed: top carbon offset projects may not cut planet-heating emissions” – is the credibility of so-called carbon offset projects.
These are increasingly used by industries, governments and public and private institutions and agencies to lower their carbon footprints by purchasing, selling and trading carbon credits, each credit allowing them to emit one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent in exchange for investing in environmental projects that claim to reduce emissions.
But researchers from the Guardian and Corporate Accountability, a non-profit transnational corporate watchdog, found the top 50 emission reduction projects in the global voluntary carbon market (VCM) – such as forestry schemes, hydroelectric dams and wind and solar farms – were riddled with inaccurate claims.
The study concluded that of the 50 top projects, 39 were “likely junk or worthless” due to one or more failures that undermined promised emission cuts, eight others were “potentially junk” and the effectiveness of the remaining three could not be determined because of insufficient, independent data.
The VCM was valued at $2 billion US in 2020, but is predicted to reach $250 billion US by 2050, suggesting while a lot of money will be spent, it won’t lower emissions effectively.
All of which suggests the global system for reporting and lowering emissions is a house of cards.
To be fair to our federal Liberal government, any plan to reduce emissions will cost the public money and addressing it is a classic “wicked problem” – difficult to solve because it intersects with so many other competing societal and international issues and problems.