“Will” It Be Too Late?

Posted on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blog Post

Recent talk around who will succeed Dr. Rajendra Pachauri as the next head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has brought to mind a comment Dr. Pachauri made last year.

Following the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report, Dr. Pachauri spoke of climate change and noted that, ‘the solutions are many…all we need is the will to change1 .

As a firm believer in the proverb “where there is a will, there is a way,” I recall reading the statement, nodding intensely in agreement, and thinking to myself ‘Yes! This is all we need in Canada … all we need is will!’ – the political kind, that is.

However, a recent Institute of the Environment/Sustainable Prosperity seminar on federalism and climate policy reminded me (once again) that it is not so simple. Dr. Stewart Elgie and Dr. Luc Juillet said: our Canadian Constitution is divisive by nature, as powers are shared between provincial and federal governments, making addressing environmental issues (that know no such boundaries) extremely difficult. This demonstrates that even if a political will does exist – and indeed we have seen glimpses already at the provincial level (e.g. British Columbia and Quebec) – the ability to exercise it is constrained. While provinces have near complete power over issues concerning the environment, problems that become cross-boarder or international in scope, or violate the Fisheries or Migratory Birds Act can find jurisdictional power at the federal level.

One can see why implementing policy that puts a price on carbon, is so complicated. On the one hand we know greenhouse gas emissions and consequent impacts are pervasive, and as a result out of the provincial realm. Yet on the other, we know addressing the issue from a national level can result in regional and economic disparity and infringe on the sovereignty of provinces. Hence the current state of inertia Canada finds itself in.

Today provincial and federal government(s) are still unsure of where responsibility should lay. Should we advocate for federal action or provincial action? Dr. Elgie argues both. He believes in the case of carbon pricing – specifically vis-à-vis a carbon tax – we can have the best of both worlds. Setting a federal floor and allowing for provincial flexibility would provide the necessary leadership while still providing the necessary room for innovation and incentive for a ‘race to the top’; as some provinces will emerge as leaders.

According to Dr. Juillet (who looks to Australia as an example of relative success), such cooperation depends on greater partisan alignment and increased conversation between the two levels of government. It also requires that the issue of burden sharing be dealt with head on.

Ultimately, there needs to be political will from both the provinces and the federal government.

As an optimist, I cannot overlook the fact that recently party leaders have environmental national standards on their agenda and that there appears to be a multi-provincial initiative in the works. Therefore I remain hopeful that these constraints associated with federalism can be overcome and the proverb mentioned at the onset will hold true.

There is certainly no better time than the present for action. Especially in the months leading up to the UNFCCC’s COP21 in Paris; where, as one attendee noted, Canada will have to prove itself on an international stage and demonstrate that we are no longer willing to be a mere bystander. Not to mention the fact that climate change, like time and tide, wait for no man.

--Authored by Courtney Kehoe

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