Opinion
Meagan Wohlberg
Mark Rendell

High Energy Bills: Carbon Tax, NWT-Style

Another climate summit, another press release, another Miltenberger classic.

Don’t worry about referendums on fracking, effectively regulating emissions, or even limiting ministerial travel. The GNWT’s got an ace in the hole in its battle against climate change: high energy prices.

“Previous studies have indicated that our high energy prices already create an effective carbon pricing mechanism by leading consumers to make efficiency upgrades or to switch to renewable energy sources,” said Minister Miltenberger in a press release sent out this afternoon from the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto. “As more of the global economy adopts carbon pricing mechanisms, we need to be at the table to understand the potential implications for our economy.”

Wait. What? Is Miltenberger touting high energy prices as an alternative to government mechanisms like carbon pricing?

Sure, he says the high cost of energy, along with the effects of climate change and limited infrastructure, “present challenges to the sustainability of rural and remote Northern communities.”

But why then go on to make a statement about the nifty ways in which the invisible hand is doing the government’s job when it comes to battling climate change?

Perhaps we’re being a bit unfair. Miltenberger did just sign the Climate Summit of the Americas Common Statement promising “to take actions supporting international efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees.”

What actions would those be? Well first things first, obviously: put out a press release!

Ok, apparently the signatories to the agreement also hashed out some important items. According to the press release they’ve agreed to:

  •      Allow flexibility for locally determined action and approaches, including actions identified in the Northwest Territories Greenhouse Gas Strategy;
  •      Adopt emission-reduction targets and publicly report on progress;
  •      Work towards the long-term objective of a carbon price applied throughout the global economy that considers each country’s different circumstances and priorities; and,
  •      Enhance cooperation to share information and expertise on various carbon readiness platforms.

EDGE can get behind the promise to adopt “emission reduction targets,” so long as we remember this is an agreement to agree to targets somewhere down the road, and not much more. (It has to be noted, the GNWT has its own targets in their 2011 Greenhouse Gas Strategy. Are they meeting them? Well, that’s a question for another day.)

And information sharing and cooperation amongst scientists and experts is always a good thing.

But allowing “flexibility for locally determined action” and considering “each country’s different circumstances and priorities” when it comes to “a carbon price applied throughout the global economy” sounds like a recipe for inaction. Any jurisdiction can excuse themselves from effective action with claims of unique “circumstances and priorities.”

Perhaps we’re being a bit cynical, but leaders burning jet fuel zipping from one climate summit to the next seems to produce a lot more paper than tangible results. Only three months ago, Miltenberger, Premier Bob McLeod, three GNWT executives and four staff were down in Quebec for the Quebec Summit on Climate Change. The premier told NNSL at the time: “Definitely it’s worth travelling to. We’re not going there just to waste our time and spend money.” NWT politicians need to be there, he told NNSL, to make sure Southerners remember that climate change affects the North.

Because, scientists probably wouldn’t be able to do that, right?

But hey, ultimately who needs effective government action when your sky-high energy bills are already enlisting you as a front-line warrior in the fight against climate change.