Opinion: Senate report calls for agriculture carbon off-set credits

Capital Letters with Kelsey Johnson of iPolitics

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The Senate forestry and agriculture committee says the federal government should develop a series of carbon offset credits for the Canadian agriculture industry as well as exempt all on-farm heating and cooling fuels from federal carbon pricing.

Those are only two of several recommendations included in the committee’s highly anticipated report on climate change, released in early December. The report also called for more research funding to help reduce the carbon footprints of the agriculture and forestry industries.

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“The committee is keenly aware of the importance of combating climate change,” the report reads. “But, senators also worry that producers and consumers will suffer hardship from the imposition of carbon pricing.”

Combatting these trends, the report said, will require additional research into things like new crop varieties and other technologies that can help farmers adapt to the changing climate.

The Trudeau government unveiled a carbon-pricing mechanism as part of its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change early in 2018.

The federal government will levy a tax of $20 on every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions in provinces that have not signed on to the framework starting in 2019. That levy will eventually rise to $50 per tonne by 2022.

The levy, or federal backstop, will kick in April 2019 in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick. Yukon and Nunavut will see the levy start in July 2019.

Provinces that had signed on to the Pan-Canadian Framework (Alberta, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador) were required to have their levy in place for New Year’s Day.

Instead of billing consumers directly, the federal backstop will be levied on fuel and energy production and distribution companies, such as Enbridge gas, which will then pass the cost onto consumers.

The Trudeau government has said 90 per cent of the revenue generated from the federally imposed carbon pricing backstop (Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) will be returned to residents of those provinces through a rebate.

Whether that will be enough to sway opponents remains to be seen.

Remember, two provinces (Ontario and Saskatchewan) are currently embroiled in a court case over the policy against the federal government, while another province (Alberta) is grappling with deeply discounted oil prices that are, in turn, walloping parts of the province’s energy sector — where opinions around carbon pricing are mixed at best.

Carbon pricing has angered much of the agriculture industry too — where producers argue their industry often serves as a carbon sink thanks to fields and pastures that absorb carbon emissions. Farmers also say the policy will cost them more, despite having no way of passing added costs on to the consumer.

Senators echoed these concerns in their report. However, the committee was also quick to point out the agriculture industry is likely to be one of the sectors most affected by climate change.

“While the impacts differ in different parts of the country, witnesses all reported more temperature extremes; more frequent and severe weather events, flooding and drought; and more unpredictability in general,” the committee said.

About 10 per cent of Canadian carbon emissions are generated by the agriculture industry. Of that, half of those emissions are from the livestock sector.

The federal plan does include an exemption of up to 80 per cent of its fuels cost for the greenhouse sector. On-farm fuels, commonly referred to as ‘purple’ gas and diesel will also be exempted.

No exemption is in place for on-farm heating and cooling fuels, including natural gas and propane, outside of the greenhouse industry.

It’s safe to say the debate around climate change — and carbon pricing — isn’t likely to cool off anytime soon.

Here at home, Canadian politicians are actively engaged in a heated debate on how to stop the earth from getting warmer.

The Liberals insist a price on carbon is essential. Pollution shouldn’t be free, they argue — an argument that appears to be resonating with many urban Canadians.

The Conservatives disagree. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said Canada can reduce its emissions without a carbon tax, a policy thats hotly contested in rural and many suburban areas.

Canadian elections have been won and lost on domestic issues. In less than a year, Canadians will head to the polls for the 2019 federal election. For some, carbon-pricing could be a ballot-box issue. All parties know it.

About the author

Contributor

Kelsey Johnson

Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics.ca in Ottawa. Born and raised in Alberta, Kelsey credits her Western roots for sparking her interest in all things related to Canadian agriculture. In her spare time, she can be found hiking, camping or curled up with a mug of tea and book.

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