Modeling BC’s emissions reductions

Yesterday, the BC government released its updated Climate Action Plan. A glossy affair, it nonetheless puts text to all of the myriad actions the BC government is taking on climate. Looking at it all, it is hard to say they are just “greenwashing”, though personally I would like to see even more aggressive action now. But as the government, they are also treading the politics carefully.

One notable addition from this updated Plan is Appendix I, way back on page 103, which has a report from Mark Jaccard et al about their modeling which finds that the government has already identified 73% of its emissions reductions for 2020, with more to come when the advisory Climate Action Team reports at the end of July. We have been waiting for this modeling for some time, and yet seeing it is underwhelming because the CIMS model is such a black box.

This is a major downside to climate policy analysis in Canada — Jaccard is the only source of modeling impacts in BC and nationally. Overall, the black box, proprietary approach means verification of the numbers is virtually impossible. Still, it makes for an interesting read.

[UPDATE, July 18: Mark Jaccard says that the CIMS model is not actually proprietary; somewhere along the line that term got slipped into a publication by mistake; and he is willing to share it for free]

A few oddities, however. The report has some energy price numbers that are way lower that current prices, which may mean it is understating impacts. But the fact that prices are up so much and we are only just seeing changes at the margins suggests that his estimates of impacts from a few years ago may have been overly optimistic (ie today’s gas prices are the equivalent of a carbon tax of $300 a tonne applied three years ago).

Also, the estimates of the price of carbon under a cap-and-trade system is too low ($25 a tonne) for the 2011-2015 period (the carbon tax should be a floor price to the cap-and-trade system) but notably ramps up in subsequent years.

Because of uncertainties, we should be pressing for a mix of policies that more than exceeds the target for 2020, just in case some policies do not have the desired effect on emissions reductions.


  • THe black box approach is par for the course I would say when it comes to modeling such complexities. I do agree that my faith in the current model is underlined by your point Marc, on the estimates of when pricing creates action or the relative inelastic nature of energy. This was Cameron D.’s point today.

    On the bright side, at least the dramatic rise in energy prices, specifically oil,has been useful in calibrating these parameters. Although the full extent of calibration required is yet to be determined. And the calibration process will be quite costly in terms of tragedy, especially in developing countries.

    Oddly enough it seems to be hitting the mainstream press, with yesterdays calls for what $200 a barrel oil will mean, lots and lots of cars off the roadways, less car sales but more importantly magically less CO@, but at what cost given the process. (REGRESSIVE). Amazing that such viewpoints are so easily painted with such idiotic paint within our media. Do they really think that highways will become such vast spaces of privilege as such was the case in several articles published. Potentially the media crews were watching reruns of Mad max or something.

    I wonder how pedestrians, will treat these futuristic freeways, that have such a few large SUV’s traveling on them. Potentially the new design trend that GM will get behind will be the new Armoured, HUMMER, bigger, badder and heavily armed.

    I wonder however, if this is not precisely the direction carbon taxes that progressives are pushing governments towards. Basically greasing the wheel on the transformation of us further into the bimodal of the have and have nots. Okay revenue neutral will be the comeback. But as we sit here and debate carbon taxes and such, the price of oil continues to accelerate us towards the abyss.

    I do want to qualify my notion of innovation in an earlier comment. Taxes on energy or pricing do influence innovation there is no doubt. Substitution effects and similar devices as decreased demand are in theory supposed to come forth and supplant demand. However it is the supply side that given the necessity like fashion of our energy requirements that pervade our production process of the industrial machine, and the culturally entrenched ways and means within this process, that we are historically stuck. There is room for conservation given the current stock of the industrial value chain and its operation. However to suggest that just raising the price of energy whether market driven or tax driven will fundamentally not alter the nature of this beast. It has taken many decades to produce the current capacity for outputs in the developed parts of the world. It is within the machine that I speak of and what matters when it comes to innovation, not how we use the machine. Yes there is some space to be claimed in efficiency in how we use the machine, but my estimate at the macro level is that there is not enough to reduce the undesired outputs. In theory maybe there is, but that removes the realities of the praxis, and the under estimates that socially constructed cultures wrap up the usage of these machines and smother many notions of innovation in their usage. It takes a whole bunch of resources to change the usage of the machine. My argument is to focus on changing the machine instead. It is not new and most likely is related to hard caps if you wanted to start putting the current policy discourse in place.

    Does this always imply some kind of technological revolution, or magic panacea, no. It means taking a lot of what we have developed and putting the resources into fully developing, diffusing and extracting the environmental savings from such innovations on the supply side.

    How we motivate such behaviour has various strategies and tactics, but one of requisite enablers is plenty of resources from a public standpoint, which goes hand in hand with regulation and public input.


  • Happy to learn S.Dion’s carbon tax shift is in addition to a cap-and-trade.
    If BC does implement a carbon tax and it doesn’t cancel out a federal plan, this is a very strong argument to locate Canada’s carbon trading exchange in BC. Maybe the derivatives portion of the exchange could be dangled as a second-place carrot for MB or Que to strive to achieve. Ideally you’d want to have the exchange up and running before B.Obama implements one (that corresponds with federal policy) in the USA. A few months delay could cost financial sector jobs.

  • Thanks for introducing us all to the latest Mark Jaccard effort on behalf of Premier Gordon M. Campbell. I hope it will be rather more enlightening than his April op-ed piece in the Vancouver Sun.

    I am still trying to find time to read Jaccard’s book on the future of fossil fuels, and I also have some material from William D. Nordhaus of Yale, who is probably the world’s leading climate change economist. His material is on his Yale Univ website.

  • Anyone catch Jaccard’s latest Liberal shill piece?

    He sets up and knocks down a strawman argument that the NDP want the equivalent of $100/tonne CO2 tax (“tax to the max” as he calls it). Yet, this is the guy who claims we need a $180/tonne CO2 tax before we see it affect people’s behaviour.

    All the while, he claims to be non-partisan.

  • Thanks for those news links, Bert. I did see Jaccard’s latest piece in The Sun, which I guess is part of the same CanWest empire as BC Local News. However, the second article with the $180 per tonne estimate I hadn’t seen.

    And yet, … and yet, despite everything, the official meme keeps on rolling from a group of environmental NGOs and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to the effect that any criticism whatsoever of any aspect of either the BC Liberal carbon tax legislation, or the Federal Liberal green shift carbon tax proposal, amounts to climate change denial, complete dishonesty, and total irresponsibility.

    I thought that a parliamentary democracy, like a jury trial, was an adversarial system that sought through structured conflict to separate truth from fiction, good ideas from poorly considered ones. But according to David Suzuki and Marc Jaccard, and according to the CCPA’s Mark Lee as well, the NDP has a duty to future of our planet to immediately shutdown its normal opposition role and get in line behind Premier Campbell and Opposition Leader Dion.

    So what if a person commuting to their job, or going to a needed medical appointment, is being charged a carbon tax to “make them think about it”, while luxury cruise ships and their vacationing passengers pay zippo. This is the best deal around and we must all support it uncritically, according to Suzuki, Jaccard, and Lee.

    What, I wonder, was the quid pro quo here?

  • While it’s refreshing to see (what I take to be) principled criticism of the Suzuki Foundation and Co’s Liberal cheerleading, the comments here and below fall short of being actual arguments. In the realm of establishment Party politics (i.e., that of “parliamentary capitalism,” to borrow Alain Badiou’s incisive term), either the provincial NDP has substantive criticisms, bolstered by a more effective platform (nay legacy), or it doesn’t. If Campbell’s Liberals have the most progressive environmental policy going, so much the worse for the NDP. I haven’t seen any concrete arguments to the contrary here.

    That said, the Liberals are a corporate-capitalist Party, and the kind of blinkered, single-issue sop offered by the Suzuki Foundation and its ilk begs principled critique from the Left. Minimally, such a critique must do the hard but necessary work of making synthetic connections between issues of social justice and the environment (and I stress that’s just *minimally*). The power and influence of single-issue environmental NGOs like the Suzuki Foundation testifies to the routing (if not total collapse) of a broad-backed and viable Left.

    The NDP has long been a shitshow. Moreover, many 20- and 30-somethings of my generation have little or no affinity for–let alone solidarity with–traditional Left politics rooted in trade unionism and such. NGOs are stacked with these post-Left idealists-cum-canvassers, who, while often working under conditions of hyper-exploitation, honestly believe the Suzuki Foundation, Barack Obama, et al, are at the cutting edge of political possibility.

    Yet to the radical Left it’s difficult to find anything but critiques so self-assured and smug–and so devoid of spaces for action and involvement–that it’s hard to fault the myopia of my generation of post-political running-dogs.


    Meanwhile the chasm between environmental and social necessity and actually existing policy ever-widens.

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