Scheer to reaffirm Paris targets in climate speech

Scheer to reaffirm Paris targets in climate speech
OTTAWA—Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will pitch his climate change plan as Canada’s best chance to achieve the Paris climate agreement’s targets despite abandoning the Liberal government’s carbon tax.

Scheer will announce his long-awaited “vision” for the environment in a speech in picturesque Chelsea, Quebec on Wednesday.

Conservative sources, who spoke to the Star on the condition they not be named, said Scheer will keep his party committed to the Paris targets — an international goal aimed at limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees C.

One Conservative source with direct knowledge of the speech called Scheer’s plan “comprehensive” in terms of how Canada can reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions, as well as encourage other countries to reduce theirs.

How the Conservatives will get there, however, largely remains to be seen.

Scheer has committed to — a revenue-neutral price on pollution most economists view as the cheapest and most effective way of reducing emissions.

According to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, the carbon tax, along with other existing federal initiatives, would reduce Canadian greenhouse gas emissions from 704 megatonnes in 2016 to 616 megatonnes in 2030 — the year targeted by in the Paris agreement.

That’s still 79 megatonnes more than Canada’s commitment under the international agreement — although future governments could take additional action to close that gap over the next decade.

But for Scheer to credibly claim his climate plan will come closer to the Paris target than Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, he’ll have to demonstrate how he’ll cut the same level of emissions without a carbon tax.

“Carbon pricing is not by any means the only way to reduce carbon emissions, it’s just the lowest cost way,” said Chris Ragan, an economist and chair of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission.

“You could use all kinds of regulations, you could use fuel standards, you could subsidize electric vehicles, you could subsidize clean renovations, you could do all kinds of stuff … And those things will reduce emissions.”

“The problem is that they will also tend to damage the economy … relative to a carbon price.”

Few big-picture numbers or initiatives from Scheer’s plan were available Tuesday.

But Conservative sources told the Star Scheer will reintroduce a version of the popular Harper-era home retrofit program that incentivizes homeowners to improve their property’s energy efficiency.

The program was so popular — and thus so costly — that the previous Conservative government cancelled it in 2012.

Under Scheer’s plan, sources say, Canadians would be eligible for a 20 per cent refundable credit on their income tax for renovations between $1,000 and $20,000 — equalling a savings of up to $2,850 per year on energy efficiency renovations.

The Conservatives expect the credit will cost upwards of $900 million per year over the two-year life of the program.

Scheer is also expected to announce a “green patent credit,” reducing the corporate tax rate from 15 per cent to 5 per cent for companies developing and patenting green technology in Canada. The party expects the credit will cost $20 million a year, rising to $80 million after 2023. The intention is to incentivize companies developing eco-friendly technology to invest in Canada.

Conservative sources who spoke to the Star could not say how much either initiative would cut emissions.

David McLaughlin, a former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney and Jim Flaherty, said Scheer’s climate change pitch will be “very important” for his chances in the upcoming federal election.

“I’d very much like to hear a Conservative leader stand up and say ‘look, climate change is real, it’s pressing, it’s urgent, and we need to do something about it here in Canada and also around the world.’ What I’m looking for is Conservatives to embrace climate change as a real, legitimate issue that we need good public policy around,” McLaughlin, the climate change director for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, told the Star.

“It is absolutely legitimate for the Conservatives to have a different policy approach than the Liberals. It’s democracy, it’s all good. Now what is their plan to reduce emissions here in Canada. We cannot simply approach this with a view to outsource the climate problem to other countries, even though they are bigger emitters. If it’s a global problem, it requires a global effort.”
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