A carbon-heavy economy is a recipe for an increasingly costly environmental crisis, with more people on the planet being forced to cope with it, says a new report by a research group.
The report released Monday by the University of British Columbia’s Sustainable Communities Institute says Canadians have already become more dependent on the energy industry, with nearly half of them living in a city that uses more than one-third of its energy from the electricity industry.
“That’s a huge burden,” said lead author Robyn Kivik.
“It’s a burden we’re carrying with us into our adulthood, and it’s something that impacts our health and our longevity.”
The report says the number of people living in cities that are dependent on fossil fuels rose by more than 100 per cent between 2010 and 2020, a trend that could continue if we don’t curb the rapid growth of the industry.
Kivik says there is a growing recognition of the environmental impact of the fossil fuel industry and that it is time to address the problem.
“I think we have to get to a place where we can actually say, ‘Enough with the denial of climate change,’ because that’s what we need to do, because there is something happening now,” she said.
The study, which looked at nearly 40 years of energy consumption data, finds that a carbon-dependent society is already putting a strain on the environment and is creating an even greater burden for future generations.
The authors say a carbon tax would be the best way to reduce emissions, especially since a carbon price has proven to reduce the cost of goods and services, while increasing overall economic growth.
“It’s going to be an extremely challenging time for governments to implement a carbon policy because there’s so much uncertainty, and a lot of these options are really costly,” said co-author Chris Riddell.
“The reality is we’re not going to have a carbon cap in place until after 2020.”
“The biggest obstacle to implementing a carbon reduction plan is the unwillingness of governments to accept the cost that is being borne by consumers and businesses, as well as governments and the public at large,” he said.
For example, Kivak says the federal government has refused to provide a price for carbon, and has instead kept the price at a level that is considered to be a healthy and sustainable price.
“So, if you’re a business, you’re not seeing any increase in revenue because you’ve just kept the rate at the level that you’ve been for a very long time, but that’s just not acceptable,” said Kivk.
“But if you are a government, you are seeing increases in revenues because you’re seeing businesses start to shift to carbon-neutral, because it’s no longer going to cost you as much.”
“It is not a matter of whether the carbon price is high or low, but of what the cost to the economy is going to come down,” she added.
While Kivick says the government should be looking at a carbon pricing plan that includes the cost-benefit analysis of the policy, she says it’s also important to look at ways to reduce carbon emissions while still supporting the economy.
“We need to look in the right direction.
I’m not saying we should just do away with fossil fuels entirely.
We’re still going to need them in a few different ways,” said Riddel.”
For example there are technologies, like electric cars, that could help reduce our dependence on the fossil fuels that are powering our vehicles.”
But Kivack warns that a policy that includes no carbon pricing will not be able to solve the problem of rising global temperatures.
“This is not going away.
It’s not going in the future.
We are going to see some very big changes in the climate system, and there is no doubt about that,” she told CBC News.”
Climate change is going beyond what we are able to do on a climate change basis, so the question then becomes: how do we go about doing something about it?”
Kivick and Riddells report says a carbon emissions tax will have to be in place for a long time to be effective.
The researchers note that governments have yet to develop a detailed carbon price plan, which is expected to cost billions of dollars to implement.
The findings come as Canada’s energy regulator is launching a review of the energy sector’s carbon pricing plans.