BC’s dysfunctional resource debate, part 4: The elephant in the room - climate change

Report: 'Our reputation is hurting us. It is especially hurting our ability to address perceptions in key markets and to generate support for many resource projects'


So far we’ve looked at a loss of trust in business and government leaders, the declining influence of public institutions and the high performance demands now placed on industry. The last issue I’m addressing in this series is the most complex and vexing one yet: climate change.


What does climate change have to do with it?

As with the rest of this series, my comments today stem largely from the work of the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary-based think tank that recently published this report on public-acceptance issues related to the resource sector.

And why would this business-friendly think tank based in Canada’s energy capital feel the need to bring up a touchy subject like climate change? “It is because our reputation is hurting us,” the authors explain in the report. “It is especially hurting our ability to address perceptions in key markets and to generate support for many resource projects.”

The report makes it very clear that Canada has a dreadful reputation on the climate-change file. Our country is seen as a laggard on the world stage for a number of reasons.

While our emissions intensity may be declining, our overall levels are still high, and emissions related to the resource sector continue to rise. Meanwhile, successive national governments have set emission-reduction goals far beyond reasonable expectations for a resource-dependent economy and then failed to adjust these commitments, much less honour them.


Government failure hurts industry

It is, to put it bluntly, a failure of national public policy. And yet the outcry appears to be increasingly directed at industry. Perhaps because people feel that lobbying the feds is a wasted effort, those passionate about addressing climate change are instead targeting major projects, especially those related to fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

For people who are truly moved by the threat of climate change, this reaction is understandable. It’s also entirely unfair. Regardless of what one thinks of resource companies, hopefully we can all agree that it’s not their job to set national policy (I’m sure no pipeline protester would want them to!). And climate change is precisely the sort of wide-ranging issues where a national policy is needed.

The Canada West report concludes that industry would benefit if the Canadian government were to get serious. There’s little reason to think that a broad-based system of carbon pricing - similar to BC’s carbon tax - would seriously threaten the economy, the authors state, provided it was offset by tax reductions elsewhere.

As noted in the report: “The net benefit/cost might well be positive for resource industries since a stable carbon management regime would add to political stability and social legitimacy.”


Putting the onus back on government

The Canada West report ends with a call to government to re-examine Canada’s commitments to reducing emissions. They challenge political leaders to set realistic emission-reduction goals that reflect the reality of Canada’s resource-dependent economy and then get serious about actually meeting those targets.

As mentioned, the Canada West Foundation is regarded as a generally business-friendly shop. The fact that they’re calling out government for its poor performance on climate issues is telling. Industry, it seems, is getting tired of being punished for someone else’s failure.


Peter Severinson is the research director for Resource Works.


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