Monthly Archives: January 2019


measure your impact

Climate Change – a political hot potato.

Climate Change Shouldn’t be Political


We take many things the government does for granted, regardless of the political party in power: Social services, education, emergency services, transportation infrastructure, waste management and clean water all happen reliably, no matter who’s leading.  Why can’t climate change mitigation and adaptation be on that list?

I’m over the politicization of climate change. It’s tiring, counterproductive and often embarrassing.  I realize that at both the provincial and federal levels, political parties are all doing their best to get elected; doing so on the back of climate change, however, is wrong.   We should be better than that.

While I’m not a big fan of California’s carbon market framework, I am in awe of the states’ commitment to climate change mitigation, and its ability to stay the course regardless of who’s in power.  Both Democratic and Republican leaders in California get “the environment” and both are committed to building the economy while reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Why can’t we do that in Canada?  Why can’t political leaders put the environment ahead of the party the way they do their commitment to provide emergency services?

The fact is that they can if they want to. We know this because they’ve done it in the past.  For proof we need only look to the Acid Rain Accord, signed by the US and Canada in 1991.

The Acid Rain Accord created the first Cap & Trade system in the world and was implemented to reduce SO2 emissions in the most cost-effective manner. It was signed by Richard Nixon and Brian Mulroney (a republican and conservative) and it’s been maintained by all subsequent federal governments in the USA and Canada since.  A price on SO2 emissions was set back in 1991 because the great lakes and forests were dying, public health was being impacted and buildings made of marble and limestone were corroding.

Bad things were happening so Governments acted to reduce SO2 emissions – and it worked! It worked because they created a stable emissions reduction market, but it mostly worked because those in power chose to make it work.

Why can’t the various political parties in Canada can’t choose to do something similar today? The environment is apolitical. All we seem to hear in Canada regarding carbon taxes, for instance, is that political parties are either for them or against them. With no middle ground, there’s not even a starting point for meaningful discussion.

My advice to Canada’s political parties is to find the middle ground. Your job is to do what’s best for the people of Canada and for the land we live on. Your priority should not be to do what’s best for your party, the federal or provincial treasury or  to get elected.

To all the elected officials in Canada I say stop fighting and start collaborating. Clearly, you can’t agree on the carbon tax, so agree on something else. Something fundamental to all of Canada and something that’s been proven to work, like developing a robust emissions reduction market that all governments can support.

Do that and you’ll provide industry with much-needed market certainty and stability, which will result in investment in technologies and projects that reduce GHG emissions. Do nothing, then nothing changes – and we know the status quo is unsustainable.  We have the experience required to build a world class emissions market. I urge our elected officials to act now.

Develop a results-oriented, market-based climate policy that respects:

  • Substantial investment of over a billion dollars already made in the sector
  • People who work in the oil, gas and power production sectors;
  • The fact that our natural resources are precious and should be valued;
  • The scientific evidence calling for corporations, investors, governments and individuals to reduce GHG emissions; and
  • The ability for markets to drive down emissions in the most cost-effective manner

In 2018 the value of global carbon markets was $82B USD[1].  Greenhouse Gas Emissions are the acid rain of this generation. Together, it’s not only possible to make Canada a leader in this expanding global market, but it’s the chance to positively impact the Canadian environment and people for generations to come.


International Co-operation and Cap and Trade Solved Acid Rain

International Co-operation and Cap and Trade Solved Acid Rain

I know what you’re thinking: Acid Rain is so 1980’s!

The reason we can even consider Acid Rain a “vintage” environmental problem, is because the US and Canadian governments in power at the time, in concert with big business, got creative – then followed through.

To those who think the challenges of climate change are too overwhelming to solve, we need only look to the Acid Rain Accord, signed into law by the US and Canada in 1991. It’s unprecedented success at cutting sulphur dioxide (S02) emissions is an inspiration and an international, bi-partisan template for economic and environmental success that works.

How? By showing that market incentives can be levers for change. The Acid Rain Accord set a price on S02 emissions, capping them at a reduced level while permitting companies to trade extra reductions, thereby turning those pollution reductions into marketable assets.

The result? The first Cap & Trade system in the world.

Acid Rain: A History

Through the 1970’s and 1980’s sulphur dioxide pollution was creating acid rain and snow that was killing aquatic life and forests and causing buildings and sculptures made of marble and granite to disintegrate. But what to do? The majority of S02 emissions were caused by coal and power plants, and acidifying pollutants were being carried long distances from their source by prevailing winds. The solution to this complex problem required action locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.

It led to the 1991 Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement, which included specific commitments by both countries to cut Sulphur and nitrogen oxides emissions; ensure visibility protection; prevent the deterioration of clean areas; and conduct regular emissions monitoring.

The Agreement, however, needed an economic vehicle to drive change. In response, business and government worked together to devise something completely new: A Cap and Trade approach to emissions. The system required aggressively cutting all emissions in half, but individual companies could decide on their own how they’d get there. It also allowed plants that lowered emissions more than required, to sell those extra allowances to other plants to offset their excesses.

Flexible and innovative, a new commodities market was born.

In the end, sulfur emissions not only dropped faster than predicted – 30% less S02 pollution than the law allows, in fact – but did so at a quarter of the projected cost.

“Thanks to the cooperation between our nations over the last 20 years, Canada and the United States have made great strides in the ongoing effort to reduce harmful air pollution and prevent serious health challenges for our people,”

– Lisa P Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency

Since 1991, both the US and Canada have made substantial progress in reducing S02 emissions.  As of 2010, S02 emissions in the US have dropped 67% from 1990 levels. Power plant emissions alone have decreased by over two-thirds from 1990, cutting more than 7M tonnes of S02 beyond their initial allotment from the US Environmental Protection Agency. In Canada, S02 emissions declined by 55% overall, mainly due to reductions from base metal smelters (down 72%) and fossil fuel-fired power plants (down 45%).

It’s worth noting that S02 pollution has dropped dramatically, despite strong and consistent growth in both the US and Canadian economies: Proof that an economy can grow while pollution levels shrink. Cap and Trade is good for business and good for the planet.

The innovation of the 1991 Cap and Trade solution to mitigate S02 pollution and its overwhelming success is the inspiration behind one of the most powerful tools we have to fight a warming planet and motivate change to reduce GHG emissions and Carbon Markets.

Programs that harness the power of the market, like the US acid rain program, can help create large-scale pollution reductions quickly and affordably”

– Joe Goffman, Environmental Defense, senior attorney