I read a quick article in Bloomberg Businessweek last week that detailed an unlikely alliance between tar sands producers and environmentalists to put a pollution tax on the dirty, heavy crude coming out of Alberta. Yes, that is correct. Tar sands producers are actually lobbying for a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system that would help to clean up their operations. In British Columbia, a province that enacted a carbon tax, families are paying an average annual premium of $376 and have reduced their per capita emissions 10%. The producer’s biggest fears are to be viewed as “too polluting” by other nations, resulting in no market for their exports. America’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline highlights this fear. Unless the tar sands can change their appearance, it seems that the world would be okay without the product. An oil industry spokesman even said that “If your country looks at Canada and says your energy exports are too carbon intensive, then it becomes and economic competitiveness issue.”
Standing in the way of this unlikely alliance and subsequent carbon pricing is the Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper has traditionally emphasized business and job creation over environmental issues and is responsible for pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, the only nation to do so. Failure to embrace cleaner regulations on the tar sands may soon become an environmental and economic problem for The Great White North.
The winds of change are blowing, and nations are figuring out how to monetize carbon. If Canada can enact sensible regulation that appeases both oil producers and environmentalists, then it can be a leader in the carbon markets. If it fights the winds of change, then it risks being left behind by the rest of the world. The simple answer is to put a price on carbon and use the proceeds to invest in clean technology developments.