Climate change, law, and predictability

Spiral staircase in Worcester College

Happy Birthday Kate Dillon

In a somewhat surprising move, a coalition of opposition members of Parliament in Canada have passed a bill forcing the government to live up to the commitment that was made when we signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Specifically, Canada is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 6% below their 1990 levels by 2012. This is quite a substantial reduction to achieve in the next five years, given that emissions are presently about 30% above their 1990 levels.

In many ways, this situation demonstrates how not to deal with the problem of climate change. What you need to do is create the certainty, within industry, that the costs of GHG emissions will increase predictably and progressively over time. Then, when decisions are being made about what equipment to buy and how to set up industrial processes, the extra constraints can be taken into account. By contrast, the present on-again-off-again approach doesn’t create clear incentives. Even worse, it is not clear to industry what will happen after 2012.

The most straightforward and effective approach would be a tax on every tonne of GHG emissions, weighted according to the contribution the particular gas makes to global warming. Since methane contributes more than CO2, it would be more highly taxed. That tax would then rise progressively over time, until Canada reached the point where GHG emissions stabilized and then began to drop towards pre-industrial levels. Whether such an approach would be politically possible (especially with Alberta eying a tar sands bonanza that could mean massive emissions) is another matter. Three plans for meeting the target are outlined in this article from The Globe and Mail.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

7 thoughts on “Climate change, law, and predictability”

  1. In Northern Alberta, there are mills where a massive sawdust and waste wood burner roars away only a hundred meters from a dry kiln, which burns huge amounts of natural gas.

    A tax on C02 emmisions would not be enough to fix this. What would be needed would be strategic intervention of funds, capital loans to finance the building of a wood fired power plant which could generate energy to the run the dry kiln and the town.

    There are not even tax credit incentives in place now to encourage such a project.

  2. Their ‘Iced Cap’ may have nothing to do with cappuccino, but it is still a pretty tasty aid to report writing at 3:00am.

  3. The New Climate Almanac 2007
    Globe and Mail Update

    The implications of climate change can be overwhelming. They touch every field, from science to economics to culture. Our New Climate Almanac 2007 breaks down the complexity with a concise miscellany of the latest ideas, facts and predictions.

    Page 1 of 15

  4. Energy sector braces for carbon costs
    The biggest producers of emissions are tallying the financial impact of tougher environmental legislation


    February 11, 2008

    CALGARY and TORONTO — Signalling a major shift, Canada’s biggest carbon-dioxide emitters are calculating the costs of climate change as they brace for new environmental legislation and tougher disclosure standards.

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