Carbon offsets condemned by academic 

Better policy options available to all governments, says Jaccard

Noted academic Mark Jaccard gave the province’s carbon tax a passing grade during an Earth Day panel this week, but he refused to endorse Whistler’s strategy to become carbon neutral through the purchase of offsets.

“I’ve become very negative about carbon neutrality, and it’s because of offsets,” Jaccard said in response to a question by Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed. “It allows us to think we’re taking action when, in fact, we’re increasing emissions.”

Jaccard said creative policy design should take the place of offset purchasing. He then suggested Whistler Council consider letting only environmentally friendly cars park in resort lots.

Policy was the focus of Jaccard’s talk, which was organized by the Whistler Forum and hosted by Quest University in Squamish. Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson joined Jaccard — who advised the province on its carbon tax policy — for a two-hour session that saw both men speak on climate change before taking questions from the audience. Jaccard, Simpson and Nic Rivers co-wrote last year’s Hot Air: Meeting Canada’s Climate Change Challenge .

According to Jaccard, there are a variety of policy options available to governments serious about fighting climate change. However, politically safe options, like information and subsidy programs, are non-compulsory and, therefore, ineffective. What’s truly required, he said, is compulsory legislation, things like building codes and disincentives, which is how he categorized the carbon tax.

“There’s a white knight in this story,” Jaccard said, “and it’s the last person I ever thought would be a white knight — it’s (premier) Gordon Campbell.”

Jaccard said he was long a critic of Campbell’s, but the government’s commitment to a carbon tax won him over.

“For whatever reason, Gordon Campbell, I now believe, is sincere,” he said. “Because these policies are real policies with real political risks.”

The political instability the tax could represent has made British Columbia a case study for other North American jurisdictions pondering similar measures, said Simpson.

“What happens here politically will be very carefully studied,” he said, adding that if Campbell’s majority suffers in a significant way because of the tax, other governments will not likely adopt it.

At the same time, there has never been so much political posturing devoted to climate change, and Simpson said that’s not likely to change. He referenced campaign literature printed by the Stephen Harper Conservatives in which climate change warranted only two sentences. Now, the government has committed to reducing emissions by 20 per cent in the next 12 years, a commitment Simpson said would be “inconceivable” from past Conservative governments.

“So I’m saying to you that the political marketplace has changed on the importance of this issue and the desirability of various actors in the marketplace to seem credible on this issue.”

Jaccard agreed, saying North American society is moving towards a tipping point that will produce better and better policy actions.

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