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British Columbia’s carbon pricing has led to cleaner air: study

As Canadian politicians continue an intense debate over emissions policies, a new study has found that the country’s carbon pricing scheme in British Columbia has a health benefit: Air in the Pacific province is now cleaner to breathe.

British Columbia (BC) introduced a carbon tax in 2008.

By 2018, “for every household in the BC metropolitan areas – after the carbon tax (was introduced) – we have a five per cent to 11 per cent reduction in local air pollution,” said Lorenzo Sileci, the author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics.

“In particular, fine particulate matters go down,” he said.

The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, which is part of the London School of Economics, led the study that Reuters is the first to report.

While BC had a carbon tax first, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau created a federal plan in 2019, making it his signature emissions-cutting policy. It is now under attack from some provincial premiers and Trudeau’s Conservative rival Pierre Poilievre, who has pledged to “axe” the carbon tax and has said he wants to make it a key issue in the next election.

Trudeau offered in October a three-year carve-out for home heating oil, but not for natural gas, which prompted Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who represents the natural gas-producing province, to vow not to collect the tax anymore starting in January.

Canadians receive quarterly rebates to make the carbon tax revenue neutral, but Poilievre and critics say it has made life more expensive amid high inflation.

“Sure, carbon pricing is politically difficult to put in practice,” Sileci said. “But when it’s there, such as the case of Canada, it brings about a whole set of benefits that are not just factored in the carbon emission reductions.”

The air quality improvement was driven by reductions in fuel demand and by people switching to public transport from private vehicles, the study says.

“Beyond the climate-saving benefits of cutting pollution, we must remember the significant health benefits to Canadians from cutting smog,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told Reuters in an email. “Studies show that breathing smog can be just as harmful to our health as smoking.”

Guilbeault is currently attending the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

Sebastian Skamski, a spokesman for Poilievre, did not respond to the report’s findings, but said that the carbon tax “is driving up the cost of food, fuel and heating” and confirmed it would be eliminated by a Conservative government.

Titled “Carbon pricing with regressive co-benefits: evidence from British Columbia’s carbon tax,” the research has yet to be peer reviewed and is subject to revision.


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