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Canadian business leaders back carbon-pricing policies

A letter from the advocacy group Smart Prosperity was signed by top executives of more than 40 corporations, including oil sands companies.

Jimmy Jeong/Bloomberg

A coalition of senior business executives and environmentalists is adding its support to Canada's push for carbon pricing and other actions to address climate change, despite some concerns Canadian businesses will face a disadvantage against competitors in the United States.

In a letter to be released Thursday, the leaders argue the most advanced countries are pursuing policies to forge cleaner, more innovative economies, and Canada needs to keep up or lose out in a growing global market. The letter from the advocacy group Smart Prosperity makes no mention of president-elect Donald Trump's promises to reverse course on key climate policies adopted by President Barack Obama.

Canada has begun to make progress in the transition to a low-carbon economy, says the Smart Prosperity letter, which was signed by top executives of more than 40 corporations, including Suncor Energy Corp., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Canadian operation.

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"Now is the crucial moment to build on these successes and expand our efforts," it says. "Putting a price on carbon, to reflect the real environmental costs, is the most cost effective way to reduce emissions, stimulate innovation and drive energy efficiency."

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to meet with provincial premiers next month with the aim of forging a pan-Canadian climate strategy. The plan would include national carbon pricing and a host of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in energy production, transportation and buildings, and increasing investment in clean-energy technology.

Governments put a price on carbon emissions by either directly taxing emissions or capping them and requiring emitters to purchase allowances. The system increases the price of fossil-fuel energy and is meant to encourage companies and consumers to reduce their consumption over time. Several provinces offer breaks for energy-intensive industries that face significant international competition.

Launched last March with Mr. Trudeau in attendance, the Smart Prosperity group is based at the University of Ottawa and brings together senior business leaders, environmental groups and others to find common ground on climate policy.

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The business community is far from united on the carbon-pricing issue, even as Conservative MPs and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall warn that additional climate-related costs will hurt the Canadian economy, particularly the hard-pressed oil and gas sector.

In London this week, Ian McFeely, vice-president of international at Enbridge Inc., warned that Canadian firms would have a tough time competing if governments in this country adopt carbon taxes but the United States does not. In Calgary, Mark Scholz, president of the Canadian Association of Oilfield Drilling Contractors, said this week that president-elect Trump is vowing to reduce regulatory costs for the U.S. industry and the Canadian industry will lose investment if it imposes carbon pricing.

However, proponents of more aggressive climate action argue that policies take into account competitiveness issues by directing revenues back into the industries most affected. And they noted that several U.S. states are moving forward to climate policies that include carbon pricing.

Mr. Trump's election should not deter Canada from adopting policies, including carbon pricing, so long as it is done with an eye to maintaining cost competitiveness, Michael Crothers, Royal Dutch Shell PLC's country chair for Canada, said in an interview.

"I think we have to continue to monitor that situation very, very closely because they are our major trading partner," said Mr. Crothers, who signed the Smart Prosperity letter.

"But forging ahead and putting the framework in place will be very important to send the right signals for innovation and for consumers to mitigate their carbon footprint."

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In addition to resource companies, the letter was signed by chief executive officers form Siemens Canada, Bank of Montreal and The Co-operators insurance company, as well as Pierre Gratton from the Mining Association of Canada and John Manley, head of the Business Council of Canada, which represents chief executives of large corporations. It was also signed by 20 representatives of environmental groups and unions.

Mr. Gratton from the Mining Association said his members have endorsed the need for carbon pricing and recognize the world will move inexorably to a cleaner-energy future as the impact of climate change worsens.

"Our position reflects the recognition in our industry that climate change is coming and carbon pricing is the best way to deal with it," he said. While key countries such as the United States and Australia do not have national carbon pricing plans, many others, including China, are moving to adopt such policies.

"The momentum is there," Mr. Gratton said. "We certainly feel there is no turning away from it."

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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