OPINION: The Paris Climate Agreement: Get the Carbon Pricing Right

OPINION: The Paris Climate Agreement: Get the Carbon Pricing Right

The Paris Climate Agreement: Get the Carbon Pricing Right

After nearly two decades of international negotiations, The Paris Agreement  formally adopted on Saturday, December 12, 2015 set into motion an ambitious global process of accelerated action to avoid catastrophic changes in our global climate.

Happily Canada is back on track after receiving a Lifetime Unachievement Award for climate inaction in 2013. Canada’s delegation in Paris included most of our Premiers, our Prime Minister, Opposition leaders and Indigenous leadership. Our Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, was invited to negotiate the final details of the Paris Agreement.

The most promising aspect of the global agreement is found in Article 2: “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels”. Four facts must kept in mind though:

  1. It is not a formal commitment to a 1.5 oC limit – just a promise to pursue that limit.
  2. The actual plans from the 195 countries that took part in the Paris Agreement currently still commit the world to a temperature rise well above the two degree limit.
  3. In November 2015 the world hit the one degree rise above pre-industrial levels.
  4. Also in November 2015, humanity passed another ominous milestone: the last time anyone alive will experience global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels below 400 ppm. The more scientifically rigorous benchmark for avoiding catastrophic climate change is not global temperature increase but parts per million (ppm) of CO2in the atmosphere. The scientific data strongly suggests that the safe level is 350 ppm. For over 10,000 years of human civilization, until the last hundred years, atmospheric CO2 was below 300 ppm. The last time global CO2 was over 400 ppm was more than three million years ago and the oceans sea level ranged between five and 40 meters higher than today.

Fortunately though we now  can hold our government to their promise of 1.5 C and therefore have a mechanism to limit government approvals for new fossil infrastructure such as pipelines and fracked-gas wells.

A huge business opportunity awaits. Early adapters will be the businesses that have clear policies from their government. A transparent and predictable national carbon pricing policy is a key element to transitioning to a prosperous clean tech future.

On Monday, November 30, the Government of Canada joined a UN global coalition of partners called the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition— a new policy-design framework where governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses, including some of the world’s largest oil companies and institutional investors, work together as peers. Their mission is to build effective, efficient, equitable carbon pricing into all national climate strategies by 2020. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is also a partner in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition.

Canada went to Paris with deeply inadequate commitments.  PM Trudeau has promised to meet with the premiers within the next 90 days. There is a hodgepodge of provincial carbon pricing policies, including carbon taxes (BC, Alberta and possibly New Brunswick) and cap and trade (Quebec, Ontario and now Manitoba) that must be woven together.

In Paris Canada committed to stand up for Indigenous Rights. Thus, it must be noted the following was stated by the International Indigenous Environmental Network in Paris regarding cap and trade:

“The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south.” – Alberto Saldamando, Human Rights Expert & Attorney.

In conclusion, when viewed through the lenses of international cooperation and historic moments, December 12, 2015 was an auspicious day for the climate. When viewed from the lenses of scientific rigour, political will and real deeds, it is clear we have a lot of work ahead of us.

What is needed in Canada is a national rising fee on CO2 that is integrated with provincial carbon pricing mechanisms, coupled with rebates to households and tariffs on imports. This will provide the economic incentive to drive the emissions reductions needed to ward off catastrophic climate change while stimulating the economy. Carbon fee and dividend is that policy.

Contact: Cathy Orlando, National Manager, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada,  cathy@citizensclimatelobby.org


Cathy Orlando has put her words to work for the climate by getting letters and opinion pieces published in newspapers in every province in Canada. When she’s not safeguarding the climate alongside the best volunteers on the planet, you can probably find her stargazing, dancing, reading books not about climate change, hanging out with her husband Sanjiv, and mothering her three cherished daughters.