British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Is Working
Craig Axford

Thank you for this post.

From a public policy standpoint the goal of any comprehensive climate policy should be to avoid and limit the effects of dangerous climate change. To achieve this, climate science has clearly informed policymakers that total greenhouse gas emissions/CO2e have to peak more or less now and to be reduced rapidly to carbon neutrality (and likely carbon negativity) over the next 15 to 30 years. The time range reflects different goals (1.5C v. 2.0C) and risk tolerances (e.g., 66% chance of limiting warming to 2.0C v. 50% chance, etc.).

Depending on the temperature goal and risk tolerance selected, this correlates to global emissions reductions of 3% to 6% per year until carbon neutrality/negativity is reached. From the standpoint of climate justice, developed countries, such as the United States and Canada, should arguably reduce emissions at 6% or more to assume responsibility for their historic emissions. Finally, the longer it takes for global emissions to peak and to be reduced to carbon neutrality/negativity, the greater the risks and magnitude of damage from adverse climate impacts.

These charts (from the link in your article) show considerable progress on several fronts but a failing grade on the bottom line. Basically, there was a fairly steep drop in total emissions in BC from 2008 to 2010, likely caused by the great recession, perhaps with a modest bump from the carbon tax. Beginning in 2010, total emissions began to rise slowly again as the econonmy and population grew. Obviously, rising total emissions are inconsistent with basic climate policy goals.

Many studies have shown that de-carbonization in developed countries is technologically and economically feasible over 30 years. I’m not aware of specific studies regarding the feasibility of de-carbonization over 15 years, though the IPCC report on 1.5C certainly jump starts this discussion.

What combination of climate policies would it take to achieve carbon neutral/carbon negativity over 30 years? Clearly, if carbon pricing is the centerpiece, the price would have to be much, much higher than BC’s current price. Revenue neutrality would also have to be abandoned, with considerable revenue from a carbon tax dedicated to public investment in a wide suite of measures to mitigate emissions and to be for necessary adaptation to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The poor and middle classes could still be protected from economic distress through rebates, but the upper classes and especially the wealthy will have to pay considerably higher taxes to achieve emissions reductions consistent with effective climate policies.

Political and other societal leaders clearly lack the will to even engage with the realities of the public policies required to adequately mitigate the risks and limit the magnitude of harm to humanity and the environment from dangerous climate change. BC’s carbon tax is successful from the standpoint of societal buy-in. The emissions trends are better than they would be without the tax. The policy was and remains a model of what is readily possible politically. But from a total emissions standpoint, BC’s collective climate policies are demonstrably inadequate, and woefully so.