Making carbon pricing work for Northerners – Michael Miltenberger

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Michael Miltenberger, former Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Finance.The national carbon price is coming.

The new, federally mandated levy on greenhouse gas emissions comes into effect next year, setting a minimum $10 per tonne of emissions beginning in 2018 and rising $10 each year to reach $50 per tonne in 2022.

Whether through a tax on carbon or alternative market mechanisms like cap and trade, the reality is that every jurisdiction in the country needs to—and is soon going to be forced to—reduce its carbon footprint in order for Canada to meet its emission reduction targets.
It’s up to all of us in the North to make this work for us, and fast.

Northerners have valid concerns about the impact of another expense on their livelihoods. Having to pay more in a jurisdiction that already sees exorbitant energy costs likely feels untenable in many communities that are currently struggling. Increased costs of doing business, too, are putting stressors on our most active industrial sectors, creating economic uncertainty.

Fortunately, there are many Northerners with great ideas about how to make a carbon price work for the Northwest Territories; ideas that would, over time, alleviate those impacts and actually create sustainable economic opportunities for communities.

First off, it’s important to understand that the money generated through a carbon price won’t simply disappear. The point of the levy is to allow governments like the GNWT to take the fees paid by emitters and reallocate those revenues in ways that further bring down carbon emissions. These could include renewable energy projects or even climate change adaption and mitigation measures as just a few examples among the multitude of options.

Opportunities for cost savings and economic development exist within this carbon pricing arrangement, both for communities and industry. Remote communities developing renewable energy projects could see greater financial support to get their innovations off the ground, creating jobs and bringing down power costs while breaking free from costly and carbon-intensive diesel. Investments in infrastructure could be made that reduce both energy costs and emissions at our territory’s mines, keeping business profitable and boosting the territorial economy.

The possibilities are huge, but the hard questions raised by the coming of a price on carbon need to be sorted out by Northerners, collaboratively, and soon.

Indigenous governments, industry leaders and communities have all recognized the need to create a plan moving forward, and are working together to develop recommendations for consideration by the GNWT on how Northerners can benefit most from carbon price revenue while ensuring it has the smallest impact possible on households and companies.

It’s a critical topic that will be up for discussion at the upcoming Inuvik Energy Conference on June 12-14, which will serve as a forum for conversations around the NWT’s energy future and the impacts of carbon pricing on the territorial economy. A draft paper with recommendations developed by a working group of Northerners will be presented there for discussion. The recommendations will focus on how to make sure the revenue collected by the GNWT from a carbon price can work for Northerners by using it not only to reduce carbon emissions, but for economic opportunities, lowering the costs of living and achieving energy independence.

Carbon pricing is coming, and Northerners have ideas about how to use it to our advantage. The GNWT, Indigenous governments, communities, industry and residents must work together to develop more detailed recommendations. All of us have a stake in, and should be a key part in developing, the carbon price plan.

We in the NWT have a proven track record of developing successful ways forward for difficult issues when we work together. Indigenous groups, industry leaders and communities have ideas on how to address carbon pricing. It is up to the GNWT, our government, along with these partner organizations, to lead the way.

Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan is Grand Chief/President of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and former board member of the Gwich’in Council International and Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board. She currently resides in Inuvik.

Michael Miltenberger spent 20 years as MLA in the NWT Legislature and is a former Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Finance, Health and Social Services, and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. He lives in Fort Smith.