Everything you need to know about the provincial politics of climate change, in one chart

I came across this a while ago in a Macleans article by Paul Boothe and Félix-Antoine Boudreault. Check out the right-most column:


I had been used to citing to my students a figure of 20 CO2/tonnes per person as the current emissions level in Canada. I had not realized how unevenly that was distributed across the country. Keep in mind that the general target we want to get to, globally, is around 2 CO2/tonnes per person. This makes “Canada” seem a long way off. But if you look more carefully, some provinces are a lot closer than others. Quebec is at 9.7 (because of hydro power), and even Ontario is at a not-so-bad 12.5 (and that’s before implementing cap-and-trade, just by abolishing coal). The numbers from Alberta and Saskatchewan though are insane — 64 and 68.8 CO2/tonne per person respectively. (It is worth noting that SK is not the worst offender in absolute terms, it just has a low population compared to Alberta.) This is of course tar sands production (and coal dependence). What’s amazing is that this only counts up the emissions associated with producing synthetic crude. To the extent that the oil subsequently leaves those provinces, the contents of what is in the barrels does not count toward the Alberta and SK emissions totals.

Take a look at this chart, and you can pretty much see what position the various provincial leaders are going to be taking (with, of course, the exception of the Alberta NDP). Also, if you think of the target carbon price as $30US/CO2t, then you can get a sense of what sort of a “hit” people in each province will be looking at (although not exactly, since the really big emissions in AB and SK are due to industrial processes, not consumption).


Everything you need to know about the provincial politics of climate change, in one chart — 6 Comments

  1. What precisely does your “not exactly” qualification at the end of the post mean?

    This may not be at all correct, but imagine a province emits an excessive amount of CO2 through industrial processes, from which it generates a lot of revenue. As a result it has to make transfer payments to the federal government which benefit people in other provinces. Would the “hit” per person in that province still be proportionate to its CO2/per capita emissions?

    That’s just a basic and perhaps inapt example, but I’m really not sure how carbon pricing is supposed to play out.

    • In BC and Alberta, the carbon tax is a provincial tax. If there’s a business running an industrial process that emits carbon, it pays the province for each ton of CO2 emitted. (And thus it has a strong incentive to look for ways to make the process cleaner, reducing the CO2 emitted.) The money doesn’t go to Ottawa.

  2. If a carbon tax makes dirtier synth oil projects uneconomical at a given price, hits are pretty well distributed. does a lot of synth oil stay in Canada?

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  3. Just want to note 2 things:

    1. Ontario’s carbon emissions from electrical generation, though affected positively (that is, they went down) as a result of removing coal from the mix, really were low before, and are currently so low due to our extensive use of nuclear power. You just can’t get that good without nuclear unless you’re totally on hydro like Quebec, which is why even Germany who are absolutely running pell-mell at wind and solar and shutting down nuclear plants do not come close to Canada’s overall g/CO2/kwh (and they pay far more for the privilege – http://www.hydrorates.ca/images/world-electricity-prices.jpg). Check the other ‘modern’ jurisdictions with low g/CO2/kwh, either heavy nuclear (France / Russia) a nuclear/hydro mix (Canada / Sweden / Switzerland) or heavy hydro (Brazil / Norway).

    2. Even with Alberta and Saskatchewan using coal for power, our overall g/CO2/kwh is still awesome, simply because Quebec, BC and Ontario use more power and are primarily a hydro / nuclear mix. If we really want to drop our emissions to the 2 ton / capita, then significant electrification and expansion of hydro / nuclear may be necessary. I just question whether there is any political will for this.

  4. “To the extent that the oil subsequently leaves those provinces, the contents of what is in the barrels does not count toward the Alberta and SK emissions totals.”

    Why should they? On the contrary, if you view it as Alberta and SK producing oil on behalf of consumers outside of their provinces, shouldn’t part of the production-related emissions be attributed to those consumers? It doesn’t make sense to hold all regions to the same CO2/per capita standard, irrespective of their economic makeup (energy producer, manufacturing centre, etc). The logic extends to country/country comparisons and other factors besides economic make up, such as geography and climate.

    Emission reductions should take place wherever they can be achieved at the lowest (welfare) cost. Granted, that principle is abstract and does not constitute a workable political solution, but neither should it be eschewed.