One of the most important mechanisms to reign in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is through climate legislation. In most cases, climate legislation can be disruptive and transformational. In others, unfortunately, despite global efforts to reduce GHG and maintain global temperature level increases well below 2°C, disingenuous climate commitments and greenwashing taint efforts toward a zero emissions world by 2050.
Writers are stepping up to point out the gaps in climate legislation across the globe. Let’s look at some of the positives and negatives to these laws as well as possible solutions.
US Climate Legislation is Reshaping Markets
According to an editorial in the New York Times, this “trifecta of the Biden-era laws amounts to one of the biggest experiments in how the American government oversees the economy in a generation.” If it works, politicians may think differently about managing the market for decades. If it fails, it will inhibit the US government’s ability to fight climate change.
In the positive perspective, the 3 laws will jump start a high-capacity and even re-industrialized economy. No longer will innovative ideas get pushed to the back drawers of research labs or the office; factories and corporate showrooms will be very attentive, keyed into the idea of generating jobs and economic value. Indeed, Credit Suisse predicts that likely implications of the US climate legislation include the country reducing its own GHG emissions to around 40% by 2030 relative to 2020 levels and also becoming a major global manufacturer of green-related products and materials.
On the negative side, the US still generates 79% of its energy from fossil fuels. A singular new primary energy source has yet to emerge as the renewables leader. Climate laws, because they are the product of consensus building, don’t necessarily reflect peer-reviewed science. The US financial system insists on turning a profit, yet biggest factories and transmission lines probably will only see modest returns. And does the US government actually have enough insider knowledge about the companies it’s trying to help?
Maybe Senator Sheldon Whitehouse can help. Whitehouse, who has given nearly 300 “Time to Wake Up” speeches on the Senate floor to call for greater action on climate pollution, recently became chair of the Senate Budget Committee, which is responsible for drafting Congress’s annual budget plan. He’s proposing that the committee investigate how the global warming could threaten the overall economy — and how the fossil fuel industry has allegedly misled the public about its role in the climate crisis.
Canada’s Slow Climate Legislation Pace Threatens Progress
Saying that climate change policy advances require Canada’s federal and provincial governments “rowing together — or we just end up going in circles,” an editorialist has called upon leaders to step up in 2023 “or risk jeopardizing climate progress, undermining their own competitiveness, and missing opportunities to make energy more affordable.”
Was it just a decade ago that Canadian provinces and territories were climate leaders?
- Alberta set the model for industrial carbon pricing.
- British Columbia pioneered its carbon tax.
- Quebec and Ontario devised their cap-and-trade systems.
- Both BC and Quebec enacted sales targets for electric vehicles.
- Nova Scotia worked toward clean electricity.
- Saskatchewan took an early lead in adapting to climate change.
Saying that the US new climate policy, particularly the Inflation Reduction Act and its generous climate provisions, has left Canada “in its wake,” the author looks beyond North America across the world, citing how the wave of clean energy policy, technologies, and markets is building. The author offers a list of 5 steps Canadian provinces and territories can do “to get back in the race.”
- Take on climate accountability: Federally, net zero accountability legislation requires the federal government to report progress sector-by-sector and roll out policies to deliver the needed reductions. Provinces have modelled climate accountability, too, with BC regularly providing updates and climate and clean growth objectives in several ministers’ mandates. Manitoba, Quebec, and Nova Scotia have similar structures and processes.
- Plan for bigger, cleaner, and smarter electricity and more affordable energy overall: Clean electricity needs the buy-in of electricity utilities to plan and build for that future. Provinces can take a role in electric federalism by setting clear direction for utilities and regulators through net zero energy plans and introducing policies to drive electrification of buildings, transportation, and industry.
- Embrace smart carbon pricing: Carbon pricing is becoming critical for competitiveness, providing the policy certainty investors need. Alberta, for example, has just committed to steadily increasing its benchmark price of carbon for big emitters to $170 per ton by 2030, matching the federal government. The result will be more dollars flowing into low-carbon projects.
- Define regional adaptation strategies: Climate damages are accelerating, so preparations on the part of provinces are essential. The federal National Adaptation Strategy has mobilized attention and resources toward that preparation, but provinces need to join in.
- Row together across all of these issues: Accountability systems work best when both senior orders of government are tracking progress. Building a clean, affordable, future-fit electricity system is easier if provinces connect their grids and leverage each other’s strengths.
If Canada would coalesce coordinated efforts across all orders of government, the end result would be greater than just climate mitigation. It would “build a more secure, more affordable, more prosperous Canada, across every province and territory. It’s time for provinces and territories to get back in the race.”
When AU Climate Legislation is “Toothless”
The government of Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia since 2022, released details of its climate legislation, a set of reforms to a “safeguard mechanism” towards its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030. It has been backed by the Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council, and two of the world’s largest mining companies, Rio Tinto and BHP.
It’s a climate policy that the largest polluters back, according to an editorial, because the proposed reforms keep in place all the features that have allowed emissions at facilities covered by the safeguard mechanism to increase by 7% since it launched.
Australia’s 215 most polluting facilities—those emitting more than 100,000 tons of carbon a year—have since 2016 been required to limit their emissions to a facility-specific baseline, which was set up “to be more or less completely toothless.” The baselines didn’t reduce and were too high to make any difference. With reforms, facilities will now be fined $275 for every ton of carbon over their baseline, and the baselines will decline by 4.9% each year—”supposedly compelling emissions reductions of the same amount.”
There are significant problems with the proposed reforms, according to the author.
- Facilities covered by the mechanism under Labor’s proposal will continue to be able to meet their emissions reductions obligations by purchasing carbon offsets in the form of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). The credits are meant to be generated by things that remove carbon from the air. So a business or NGO that plants enough trees to remove a thousand tons of carbon will be assigned 1,000 ACCUs, which can then be sold to polluters wishing to strike 1,000 tons of emissions from their balance sheets. A report recommended that the offset category of “avoided deforestations” be dropped, even as “the bulk of the dodgy offsets could continue.”
- The reformed safeguard mechanism will still be concerned only with facilities’ scope 1 emissions—emissions that facilities are directly responsible for, such as from factories or mines burning fuel. The glaring omission here is scope 3 or “downstream” emissions—those created when a facility’s products are used. This amounts to “measuring the emissions created to keep shafts lit and the machines on, while turning a blind eye to the trains departing with the coal it produces.” Considering that Australia exports 74% of its gas as LNG and 85% of its coal, scope 3 emissions make up the vast bulk of its carbon footprint.
- The federal parliamentary library found that buying credits to comply with Labor’s reformed mechanism could cost Australia’s large mining and gas corporations less than 0.1 percent of their profits. “It’s hardly surprising, then, that businesses and major emitters have shown such enthusiasm” for the plan.
The greenwashing over the expansion of fossil fuels, the author argues, “won’t be a step forward for climate action, but another mark on the road of the Australian government’s bipartisan policy of delaying, denying and (literally and metaphorically) gaslighting while fossil fuel industry profits pile up and the planet burns.”
We have reached out to the authors of these editorials with a follow-up question, and will update this article as we hear back from them.
Source: Clean Technica