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Carbon pricing made simple: Ecofiscal Commission urges informed debate

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 4/6/2018 1:09:00 PM

When it comes to carbon pricing, Canadians are confused, but that hasn’t stopped them from forming strong, if perhaps ill-founded, opinions on the subject.

“We knew that there were increasingly deep political and polarized conversations happening around carbon pricing,” Dale Beugin, executive director and research director of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, told EcoLog News. It retained research firm Abacus Data to survey Canadians on their opinions on climate change, carbon pricing and its impact. At the same time, it set to work producing a simple explanation of carbon pricing for popular consumption.

The result, “Clearing the Air: How carbon pricing helps Canada fight climate change”, can serve as a useful Fool’s Guide to carbon pricing for the majority (58%) of Canadians who admit they don’t understand carbon pricing.

For all the talk about carbon pricing, the Abacus research reveals that there are some significant gaps in Canadians’ awareness of policy options. Surprisingly, 41% of Canadians don’t even know what their province is doing, or planning to do, on carbon price. Residents of provinces that have already implemented a carbon price — British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec — are the most informed about what’s going on in their jurisdiction, but even there the quality of understanding varies widely.

For instance, 78% of Albertans know that a carbon price is in place in that province. Alberta’s carbon price is relatively new and was the subject of considerable public debate. Contrast that with Quebec, which has had a cap-and-trade system in place since 2014. There, awareness that a carbon price is in place sits at only 20%.

There is also widespread suspicion of the motives behind carbon pricing — whether it is intended to curb carbon pollution or fatten government coffers — and whether it will even be effective.

“It’s not really surprising that big policy changes create big public conversations,” says Beugin. Governments and organizations like his own have been focussed on the nuts and bolts of carbon pricing policy architecture, probably spending not enough time talking to the public about policy choices and their implications.

There are encouraging signs, he says. Governments have shown themselves willing to take a big political risk with carbon pricing, implementing policies that economists have been advocating for a long time. It’s only fair that those same organizations respond to the objections and new ideas that others are injecting into the debate.

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