Environment Canada admits carbon tax has ‘minimal impact’ on reducing emissions

‘Carbon pricing works,’ said Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. ‘This has never been clearer.’ To date, the carbon tax has reduced emissions by 1%.

Environment Canada admits carbon tax has ‘minimal impact’ on reducing emissions
The Canadian Press / Justin Tang
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A Department of Environment manager admitted Tuesday that the carbon tax has no impact in reducing most greenhouse gas emissions.

John Moffet, the assistant deputy minister, said the fuel tax likely affected only a third of emissions at best, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

“It is impossible to perfectly disaggregate the contribution of any individual measure because the measures all work together,” Moffet testified at the Senate national finance committee. He contends the fuel charge and the industrial carbon tax directly impacts a third of overall emission reductions.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault made a similar claim during testimony at the Commons environment committee. He only itemized figures totaling 2% of emissions.

“Carbon pricing works,” he said. “This has never been clearer.” 

Senator Clément Gignac asked the manager to identify three or four measures that reduce emissions. Moffet could not give him a “ranked list” of which are the most significant.

The overall approach is designed to work together,” he claimed.

The environment department has been faulted time again for not explaining the impact of carbon taxes and other measures. 

The Trudeau Liberals have never met an emissions target, claimed Environment Commissioner Jerry DeMarco.

In a 2023 report Emission Reductions Through Greenhouse Gas Regulations, DeMarco depicted federal climate programs as guesswork. “The federal government does not know whether it is using the right tools to reduce emissions,” he wrote.

“We found the Department of Environment could not estimate whether any regulation had its intended effect,” the report reads. “We note this weakness could affect the department’s ability to make timely decisions.”

Minister Guilbeault at the time promised to do better. “We continue to work to refine our reporting,” he said. “In the meantime, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.”

“We haven’t had any reductions,” Commissioner DeMarco earlier told the Senate energy committee. “We are up 14 percent since 1990.”

“Canada is the only G7 country that has not achieved any emission reduction since 1990,” he said. “That needs to change now.”

The most recent National Inventory Report released May 2 confirmed emissions in 2022, the most recent available data, increased 9.3 million tonnes year over year to 708 million tonnes. Emissions last declined in 2020 due to pandemic lockdowns.

On Tuesday, Guilbeault provided figures reiterated by Moffet. “They give an explanation,” he told MPs.

“How many megatonnes of emissions have been directly reduced from your carbon tax since it was introduced?” asked Conservative MP Dan Mazier. Minister Guilbeault recited the carbon tax accounts for a third of emission reductions.

“In 2018, five megatonnes,” he said. “2019, fourteen megatonnes. 2020, seventeen megatonnes. 2021, eighteen megatonnes. 2022, nineteen megatonnes.”

Conservative MP Michael Kram said Tuesday the figures didn’t add up. “By my math that works out to a three percent reduction,” he said.

The figures totaled 73 million tonnes or 2% of the combined 3,597 million tonnes of emissions over the same five-year period, according to National Inventory Reports. Annual emissions have never fallen below 686 million tonnes a year.

The Canada Climate Institute estimated Canada's 2021 carbon emissions at 691 megatonnes, owing to less activity across various sectors and oil and gas production levels.

National Inventory figures showed only Alberta and Saskatchewan had emission declines year over year. Both provinces have opposed the carbon tax as costly and ineffectual.

The tax is currently worth 12¢ per litre of propane, 15¢ per cubic metre of natural gas, 18¢ per litre of gasoline, 20¢ per litre of aviation fuel and 25¢ per litre of heating oil. A 23% increase is due next April 1.

Statistics Canada and Simon Fraser University's Canadian Energy and Emissions Data Centre data show that Canada produced 738 megatonnes of carbon emissions before the COVID pandemic.

“Solutions exist,” said DeMarco, “such as renewing the government’s fleet with zero-emission vehicles or implementing effective fiscal and regulatory measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” But he contends the feds are implementing solutions “much too slowly.”

Lawrence Hanson, associate deputy environment minister, admitted the data provided by Guilbeault and Moffet was folly.

“It’s the distinction between how much the carbon price might have affected emissions in one year versus how much in 2030,” said Hanson. “So when you heard us talking about it being responsible for one third of reductions, we were talking about the 2030 number.”

Derek Hermanutz, director general of the department’s economic analysis directorate, attempted another explanation. “When we talk about one third, it’s one third of our expected reductions,” said Hermanutz. “That’s getting to 2030.”

“Yes, but three percent of the total emissions have been reduced as a result of carbon pricing?” asked MP Kram. “No, emissions have declined three percent in total,” replied Moffet.

“And so only one percent of that three percent is from the carbon tax?” asked MP Kram. “To date,” replied Moffet.

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