Fraser Forum

Canada and the U.S. now stand on opposite sides of climate policy

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As I predicted a few days ago, President Trump yesterday kept another campaign promise, and withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Details are pending, of course, and the president threw out a combination fig leaf and gauntlet in offering to re-negotiate the accord, or to strike some alternative agreement that reflects his ideas of a “better deal” for America. Doing either of those things will require years of effort, as did the Paris Agreement itself, and it’s hard to believe that the Trump administration will really be willing to devote a lot of effort to that process, given other stated priorities.

In the meantime, President Trump emphasized that his exclusive focus is on increasing America’s economic strength and competitiveness.

It will take time to fully digest the president’s speech, but two things did draw my attention in yesterday’s Rose Garden event.

First was President Trump’s observation that the Paris Agreement represented a compromise of American sovereignty. This relates to the question of whether the Paris Agreement was legal under the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly requires that treaties that bind the U.S. to other countries be ratified by 2/3 of the Senate.

If that's President Trump’s view, it would suggest that any “new deal” he might broker would require Senate ratification, which is highly unlikely under today’s balance of power, further pushing any new deal down the road.

The second thing that caught my eye in today’s event was when EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt took to the podium to laud Trump’s actions. In his remarks, he made the case that the U.S.’s best response to climate change is to sell its cleaner energy technology (one assumes that includes cleaner fuels such as natural gas) to countries abroad that still face massive challenges in just controlling conventional pollution, let alone greenhouse gases. If Trump’s administration finds ways to grow America’s clean-tech sector and facilitates export of natural gas, that poses a direct challenge to Canada’s oft-touted goals of being a world leader in those markets.

Whatever happens, it is clear that Canada’s approach to climate policy is now fundamentally the opposite of the United States.

As the U.S. cuts climate regulations, Canada pours them on. As the U.S. cuts spending on climate programs and retargets those funds to economic stimulation, Canada spends more money to get Canadians to use less energy, raising the cost of Canadian energy, and diminishing Canada’s economic competitiveness in the markets of our biggest trading partner. And as America embarks on tax reform with a stated goal of lower taxes, Canada heaps on new ones in the form of revenue-raising carbon taxes.

President Trump’s decision should give pause to Canada’s leaders and trigger some reflection on what Canada’s policy path on climate could cost Canadians. And policymakers should reconsider the target timelines and techniques that Canada has agreed to, with regard to controlling greenhouse gas emissions, under the Paris Agreement.

 

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