No magic bullet to combat climate change say University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan researchers

Posted: October 30, 2017 12:00 p.m.

The JSGS report "Climate Change: The Challenges, Policy Options and implication” digs deep into the complexity of climate change in a global and Canadian context.
The JSGS report "Climate Change: The Challenges, Policy Options and implication” digs deep into the complexity of climate change in a global and Canadian context. Getty Images

There is no clear-cut solution to reaching the federal target of a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. Instead it will require a combination of policy instruments, including a national carbon price, according to experts at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina.

A new research paper written by the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) at the U of R and the U of S entitled, “Climate Change: The Challenges, Policy Options and Implications,” sets out the complexity of climate change in a global and Canadian context.

The objective of climate policy is to change public behavior to reduce GHG emissions, and each option outlined comes with costs and potential benefits.

In the case of a carbon price, the federal government intends that the revenue generated by the price – whether a tax or through a system of cap and trade – will remain in the jurisdiction where it is raised.

Depending how the revenue is used, the negative effects of a carbon price can be more than offset.

“The breadth and depth of the climate change issue is such that no one policy instrument is sufficient to meet Canada’s 2030 GHG reduction target. There is no magic bullet,” said Dale Eisler, who was one of the paper's co-authors and a senior policy fellow at JSGS. “All the tools in the policy toolkit – whether a carbon price, regulation or technology – must be used if governments are truly serious about tackling an issue that has defied a public policy solution for decades.”

Using the federal government’s Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change as the policy foundation, the study examines a carbon price, an emissions-based allowance regulatory system, and the use of technology as policy levers to reduce GHG emissions.

The study applies an input-output based economic analysis to determine the economic consequences of each option. It also examines the legal arguments relating to a possible constitutional challenge to the federal government’s proposed implementation of a national carbon price.

“None of the policy choices available is without problems. They will make maintenance of our current lifestyle more expensive, difficult or just plain illegal,” says Jim Marshall, JSGS executive-in-residence. “But our current lifestyle is the cause of the expected outcomes of climate change. However negative the effects of current action may appear to existing lifestyles, they must be evaluated against the serious consequences of unabated climate change many years into the future.”

jsgs climate
Co-authors of the JSGS research paper (l-r) Jeremy Rayner,
Margot Hurlbert, Jim Marshall and Dale Eisler. Photos courtesy of
Dave Stobbe and U of R Ph

As with the policy issues, the constitutional question requires that governments work co-operatively.

“The changing climate, literally and figuratively, render federal and provincial legislation, regulations, and policies less than certain in constitutional justification,” says Margot Hurlbert, JSGS professor. “As always, co-operative federalism provides less uncertainty and more flexibility, as long as ultimately the policy problem of climate change is addressed.”

If policymakers are serious about addressing it in a truly effective way that meets Canada’s national commitment and international obligations, it will require co-ordinated action by the federal and provincial governments. In that reality, the study urges the Government of Saskatchewan to take a leadership role in working with the federal government.

“For all its challenges and complexities, crafting effective climate change policy should be treated as an opportunity for governments to show they have the capacity and ingenuity to address what is a wicked problem,” says Jeremy Rayner, professor and director of the JSGS U of S campus. “It is time to demonstrate that Saskatchewan has not forgotten how to lead policy innovation on a critical issue for Canada and the world.”

The e-paper and a policy brief summary are available here.

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