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Farewell to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy


The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) closed shop at the end of March.

This move, announced in the 2012 Budget, was not unexpected, but was unfortunate and unwarranted. Now more than ever we need to take a careful look at the linkages between our environment and our economy, and this was precisely the role and mandate of NRTEE which drew upon the best available professional expertise.

NRTEE’s Climate Prosperity series aimed, for the first time ever, to estimate the economic impacts of climate change in Canada, and what they came up with was alarming.

The reports found that the most harm would occur through degraded timber supplies (a very important Canadian industry, of course), damage to coastal areas, and rising health costs in urban areas.

Timber degradation will harm British Columbia significantly, but will have the largest absolute impact in Ontario. Coastal damage will also occur in British Columbia, but mass flooding will happen in both Prince Edward Island and Nunavut. Finally, increased hospital costs will be felt in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

What are the dollar figures? The NRTEE’s estimates said climate change is likely to cost Canada between $36 and $58 billion per year by the 2050s; there is a 5% chance the costs will rise as high as $91 billion per year.

Leaving aside entirely the debate over whether the development of the oil sands is hurting Canadian manufacturing (both the OECD and IMF have weighed in and say it does) the associated increase in carbon emissions will have negative impacts on the rest of the economy.

It is wrong to think that any effort to deal with climate change is an attack on the oil sands. But even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) recognize that the oil sands already contribute 6.9% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and that oil coming from the sands is on average at least 5-15% more emission-intensive than standard crude oil.

It is no secret the industry is set to expand, and if left unchecked, it could grow to emit just as much carbon as transportation or electricity generation and use do in Canada. It is also set to represent the bulk of emissions increases moving forward.

With its final breath the NRTEE called for application of the polluter pays principle. Many proposals have been put forward on how this principle might be best applied, such as fines, carbon taxes, and a cap-and-trade regulatory system.

The basic idea is that the economic cost of carbon emissions should be added to the price of carbon producing emissions so that producers have a clear incentive to improve their environmental efficiency.

These days the Harper government likes to use the words "long-term prosperity" in their budget. But a vision of long-term prosperity means supporting cornerstone Canadian industries like the forest industry, preserving land, such as traditional Inuit homelands, from flooding, and cutting costs in health care rather than seeing them rise dramatically. It means dealing with the environmental deficit and not just the fiscal deficit.

If the Harper government is serious about the country’s prosperity, they should reverse the decision to abolish the NRTEE. Instead, they should heed its analysis of the economic impacts of climate change and its recommendations on how to mitigate this by applying the principle of polluter pays.

Luke Babad is a student at the Norman Patterson School at Carleton University and recently completed an internship with the Broadbent Institute.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. “Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada.” Government of Canada. 2011 is currently inaccessible. Photo: screen grab from the NRTEE website (accessed June 13, 2013).