Pope calls for action on climate change. Will the Canadian government respond?

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada responds to the Encyclical released yesterday by Pope Francis, addressed not only to the world’s Catholics but to everyone on the planet.

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Pope’s call to act on climate change must be heeded by Canadian Parliamentarians

Inspired by Pope Francis’ challenge to care for creation and protect the poor, Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals and Greens should come together on legislation that provides a market-based solution to global warming: Place a fee on carbon and give the revenue back to households.

With the release of his much-anticipated encyclical, “Laudato si” (Praised Be), Pope Francis has raised the stakes on climate change, reframing the issue as a moral imperative for which all, especially wealthy nations, are responsible.

The Pope is telling the world that we are called upon to be good stewards of God’s creation and turn away from behavior that alters the Earth’s climate and puts the world’s poor and most vulnerable at risk.

RELIGION AND SCIENCE COME TOGETHER: “Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” he wrote in the draft. “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity…”

THE EARTH AS AN ABUSED MOTHER: At the start of the draft essay, the pope wrote, the Earth “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorized to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”

TO EVERYONE REGARDING OUR COMMON HOME: He immediately makes clear, moreover, that unlike previous encyclicals, this one is directed to everyone, regardless of religion. “Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet,” the pope wrote. “In this encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

REGARDING CARBON CREDITS: “The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.” (Chapter 5, Clause 171, Laudato si).

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As momentum moves toward a global climate agreement in Paris at the end of the year, Francis’ message is timed to pressure world leaders to make the strongest commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To that end, the Pontiff will speak before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 25 and to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on September 24.

To stave off the worst impacts of climate change, we have to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels faster than what was agreed on at the recent G7 meetings in Bavaria – “by the end of the century”. What is needed is real commitments, substantial targets, workable plans and above all, action, something the G7 did not do because of two holdouts: Canada and Japan.

In May 2015, Canada introduced its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for reducing domestic GHG emissions in the lead up to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Paris. Canada’s newly announced INDC targets are weaker than our Copenhagen Targets and the USA’s targets. Details on how to reduce our domestic GHGs were absent from this document.

Given that we must also protect the poor and most vulnerable while solving the climate crisis, any solution needs to ensure that fees on carbon are returned to the citizen and/or any tax imposed is not traded on the market (Clause 171, Laudato si).

On October 19, 2015, Canadians will go to the polls and elect a new Parliament. The climate crisis is a non-partisan issue. Inspired by Pope Francis’ challenge to care for creation and protect the poor, Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals and Greens should come together on legislation that provides a market-based solution to global warming: place a fee on carbon and give the revenue back to households

The Solution: It is possible for Canada to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while not burdening the poor or middle class. Citizens’ Climate Lobby supports the approach favoured by world leading scientists and economists: place a rising fee on carbon and return the revenue to households. Such legislation would:

  • Place a fee on carbon-based fuels upstream, at the first point of extraction and import.
  • Increase the fee at a pace that motivates the emissions reductions necessary to avoid dangerous consequences. We recommend starting the fee at $15/carbon ton and increasing it by $10/year.
  • Protect low and middle-income households from increased energy costs associated with the rising fee on carbon by giving 100% of the revenue back to households.
  • Protect Canadian businesses with border adjustment tariffs that also encourage other nations to adopt equivalent carbon pricing mechanisms.

Evidence that putting a fee on carbon pollution would work:     

  • In June 2014, a study conducted by Regional Economic Models, Inc (REMI),examined the impact of carbon fee and dividend in the USA. The REMI study found that recycling the revenue back into the economy over a period of 10 years would add 2.1 million jobs, save 13,000 lives a year and GHG emissions would decline by 33%.
  • Five years on British Columbia’s (BC) revenue neutral carbon tax has been successful in reducing GHGs and reducing personal income tax for British Columbians while at the same time BC’s GDP has grown above the national average.
  • In April 2015, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission released a report that analyzed where Canada would be in 2020 if regulation or carbon pricing were used to manage carbon pollution. The carbon pricing model they used was revenue-neutral. Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 would be 3.7% better under carbon pricing than under a regulatory approach.