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Why Canada (and all nations) Should Embrace a Price on Carbon – a rebuttal

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There was a recent article in the National Post attempting to explain why Canada shouldn’t do anything about its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thankfully, the article never stooped so low as to argue that human-induced climate change is not a serious issue. Rather, the author’s main argument was focused on the fact that China currently emits over 10 times more GHG emissions than Canada, and therefore, any GHG emissions reductions that Canada achieves would be a useless attempt to curb this global problem.
Sure it’s a bit of a sting when Canada has the goal of reducing its GHG emissions from 739 Mega Tonnes (Mt) CO2eq (in 2012) to 524 Mt CO2eq by the year 2030, and China’s current policy allows their GHG emissions to rise from 7,500 (2012) to 13,600 Mt CO2eq by 2030. However, this increase in China’s GHG emissions is understandable given they are a developing country and the GDP per capita difference between Canada ($29,800) and China ($5,000) is a justifiable reason to give China far more leniency than Canada. Let’s first look at a country-by-country comparison of annual GHG emissions and country population to get an idea of where China and Canada fit into this picture along with most other nations in the world.

Figure 1: Annual greenhouse gas emissions by country (Mt CO2eq, top axis); population by country (million, bottom axis). Both on a log10 scale graph.

Figure 1: Annual greenhouse gas emissions by country (Mt CO2eq, top axis); population by country (million, bottom axis). Both on a log10 scale graph.


Data sources: GHG emissions ( 1, 2); population.

It is an extremely flawed attitude to believe that Canada shouldn’t do its part because Canada’s 33 or so million people and 739 Mt CO2eq of GHG emissions (2012) are so much smaller than China’s 1.3 billion people and 7,710 Mt CO2eq emissions (2012).
What if all countries that are relatively small take this attitude? If we add the GHG emissions of countries with populations that are less than 100 million people the result is around 12,270 Mt CO2eq per year – an emissions rate that is 1.6 times greater than China’s annual GHG emissions. If all of the 184 some odd countries with populations that are less than 100 million people and emitting a marginal amount of GHG emissions when compared to China took on the attitude that they’re small, and therefore, shouldn’t do their part in reducing their country’s emissions, we’d be in a lot of trouble. If these countries adopted the attitude portrayed in this recent article,we’d likely be creating a far worse climatic impact on the planet than China for many years to come.
To say my country contributes minutely to a global issue and hence we should do nothing, is simply a deplorable attitude to take when it comes to global problems such as climate change. We need to think less like nationalists and more like global citizens. When we do this, we gain a clearer picture of who is really to blame and who should put in the most efforts. As figure 2 illustrates below, it is places like Canada that have the greatest carbon footprint per capita than most countries in the world. In fact, Canada’s carbon footprint is about 3.8 times larger than China’s average per capita footprint. So how can a Canadian argue that Canada should do nothing?

Figure 2: Average per capita Carbon Footprint of nations (tonnes CO2eq/person)

Figure 2: Average per capita Carbon Footprint of nations (tonnes CO2eq/person)


Data sources: GHG emissions (1, 2); population.

As a Canadian, does this attitude reflect a globally justified balance? Simply think about why an average Canadian emits more GHG emissions than an average Chinese person. It is clear that there is a huge inequality gap between nations and this is why developing countries like China are given greater leeway while still not getting a free ride.
As for Canada’s carbon tax and the expected cost to Canadian households, I recommend you read a far more informed article on the subject here. One thing you need to realize is that Canada’s carbon tax is to be a revenue neutral tax. That means taxes on carbon-intense energy sources that consumers end up paying will be distributed back to the people in a way that supports the most needy or sustainably innovative groups of our population. The people who win in this equation are those who take climate change seriously and innovate and adapt to live a lifestyle that is considerably less reliant on fossil fuels.


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