Tag Archives: low-carbon economy

The Future of BC’s Carbon Tax

On March 17, Carbon Talks hosted its third brown bag dialogue of the year. In the past, greenhouse gas emissions were essentially ‘free’ for the individuals and corporations emitting them, and only the environment paid the full price. During this dialogue, Nancy Olewiler asked “what do people do when they can get something for free? They take as much of it as they can!” The potential solution is BC’s carbon tax.

The carbon tax is a price tag on GHG emissions and an incentive to get off a high carbon diet. Nancy Olewiler led the dialogue participants through the many merits of the policy – the gradually increasing tax rates will give industries time to adjust to the carbon tax. The tax also has a definite certainty to it because new tax rates are embedded into legislation.

But like any newly implemented policy, the carbon tax is not without shortcomings. Both Nancy Olewiler and the dialogue participants raised a number of issues with the policy as well as suggestions for ways to improve the policy.

Public support is critical for any government policy to thrive. In order to gain public support, the government ensured that the carbon tax would be 100% revenue neutral: every dollar of carbon tax collected must return to taxpayers in the form of reductions and credits.

Click to enlarge financial statement for carbon tax.

Problems with this aspect of the carbon tax are already arising – the 2009/10 forecasts indicate that the government will be returning over $2 million more than it will collect. This sort of discrepancy is not sustainable. Like energy, taxpayer dollars cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred among sectors. If the government continues returning more than it collects for the carbon tax, the government will have to cut funding or increase taxes in other areas.

Nancy Olewiler concluded her discussion of the carbon tax by saying that it is too soon to tell statistically if the carbon tax is working. There has been some evident that corporations are paying attention to the tax and changing their business practices. Still, Nancy Olewiler speculated about whether the carbon tax does enough to change behaviour on an individual level. One major concern is that the government will not be able to raise tax rates high enough to stimulate substantial GHG reductions.

How should the government deal with these shortcomings in the future? What will happen to the carbon tax after 2012? Participants at the dialogue made a number of insightful suggestions. One crucial key to future success for the carbon tax is the public’s trust in the policy. To attain this trust, the government needs to communicate the policy’s procedures and successes.

There were some interesting proposals from our dialogue participants – the government could associate the carbon tax with Medical Service Plan reductions in on order to increase the visibility of the tax. Another suggestion for increased visibility was to include a line on pay stubs showing carbon-tax related tax reductions. Everyone at the dialogue seemed to be in agreement: consolidating public support is the best way to help the government’s carbon tax policy have the desired impact now and into the future.


Innovator Profile: Larry Beasley

By Kayla Van Egdom

Carbon Talks is proud to launch a new blog series: Innovator Profiles featuring individuals and technologies that are helping Canada shift to a low carbon economy.

#1: Larry Beasley

Larry Beasley is an innovator in the urban planning sector. His vision and talents have played a vital role in the development of Vancouver City. In addition to the work that helped produce the livable and desirable “Vancouverism” of our city, Larry Beasley plays the role of city planning advisor to many other urban areas – his expertise spans internationally from cities across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

According to Beasley, every urban planner must act as the designer of the city. He has learned that applying the underlying principles of planning (density, diversity and citizen engagement) is only the first step in city design. Every city has its own culture, and this culture will drive the necessary modifications of the basic principles.

A key element to Beasley’s widely successful urban planning is to see the inhabitants of the city not as mere stakeholders, but as consumers of the city. As is true of any product with an end consumer, Beasley’s city designs have unique value propositions for each group of citizens. He employs what he calls experiential planning: fostering dialogue between citizens and planners in order to understand the desired living conditions of a city.

Beasley’s use of experiential planning has helped him understand the culture-specific needs of cities around the world. In Abu Dhabi, Beasley recognized the local population’s needs for privacy and preservation of their culture. By recognizing these needs, he realized that courtyard style houses and relatively spacious living arrangements (compared to the dense arrangements in Vancouver’s inner city, for example) were necessary to make Abu Dhabi livable for its citizens. Through citizen engagement and the desire to understand local culture, Beasley is able to achieve both livability and sustainability for cities.

When asked about the current state of Vancouver, Beasley points out that there are both structural and infrastructural aspects of sustainability. Structurally, Vancouver has made great strides, particularly in terms of the density and diversity of its housing and the transportation system in the city’s core. However, in terms of infrastructure, Vancouver has a long way to go. Although the use of renewable hydro energy is a step in the right direction, our overall waste and water handling, energy use and transportation methods are all very unsustainable. His suggestions for sustainable infrastructure are to rethink utility systems, layer Vancouver’s public transit system to make it more effective and accessible and develop office buildings and housing more strategically (rather than building office parks in unpopulated areas and continually subdividing for single families).

Beasley sees the transformations and challenges in Vancouver mirrored across the country. Cities throughout Canada are seeing a shift towards sustainable city cores.  They also face the challenges of unsustainable suburbs that account for two-thirds of overall housing.

Beasley has proven that his visions are definitely attainable. False Creek’s urban area (which Beasley played a vital role in designing) boasts a 90% citizen satisfaction rate and a reduced rate of car ownership. In Beasley’s ideal city, everything of importance (grocery stores, schools and places of employment) is within the citizen’s walking distance. This will not only address sustainability issues related to over reliance on cars, but also address some of our population’s current health problems as exercise-centric alternatives to driving such as bike riding and walking are healthy on an environmental and personal scale.

Through citizen involvement and a consumer-based view of cities, Larry Beasley believes that every city can become a livable and sustainable one. He sees Canada as having a responsibility to lead by example (as cities all over the world look to the West for inspiration) and to observe and replicate sustainable practices that are being carried out in other locations.


Tourism: Maximizing Experiences, Minimizing Carbon Footprints

By Kayla Van Egdom

Today’s Brown Bag dialogue featured Dr. Joe Kelly, a professor at Capilano University and one of the founding partners at Gobi Carbon Management Solutions. His presentation featured eye-opening information on the detrimental effects of climate change, the tourism industry’s part in affecting climate change as well as steps that the tourism industry can take to shift to a low carbon economy.

Tourism is one of the major sectors contributing to climate change. If the tourism industry was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, emitting somewhere between 4-5 percent of total emissions. In addition to contributing to climate change, Dr. Kelly highlighted four climate change-related risks the tourism industry faces: physical changes to our landscapes will detract from the scenic beauty of nature (which can be seen in the case of Vancouver’s pine beetle infestation), new regulations such as BC’s Carbon Tax will increase costs for tourist operators, markets are shifting and consumers or looking for greener tourism options and companies that do not address these market shifts will have to address increased competition and potential brand and reputational risks.

Dr. Kelly believes there is not only a chance, but a profitable opportunity for the tourism industry to re-brand itself.  He suggests that rather than being a commodity, tourism is about experiences. By maximizing experiences and minimizing GHG emissions, the tourism industry will help slow the effects of climate change.

Dr. Kelly identified six steps to a “low-carbon tourism” industry in B.C.1) conserve; 2) improve efficiency; 3) use renewable energy; 4) purchase offsets for GHG emissions that can’t be reduced through other measures; 5) adapt to the climate changes; 6) share your successes with others.

Many businesses are already reaping the rewards of reducing their carbon footprints. Dr. Kelly profiled Harbour Air, pointing out that after their shift to carbon-neutrality, they experienced a 12% increase in revenues (which was primarily due to increased market share). This is a case in point: the market is ready for greener tourism experiences. Dr. Kelly is optimistic, believing that a combination of an environmentally conscientious market and sustainable tourism businesses will slow the damaging effects of climate change in today’s world.

Dr. Joe Kelly is a founding partner of Gobi Carbon Management Solutions, and teaches at Capilano University.