Countries across the world have come together in recognizing the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions and target a net-zero future within 30 years.
But the question that remains is what policies will enable them to effectively reach their 2050 goals.
The University of Victoria’s Felix Pretis and a team of researchers wanted to provide some answers as lawmakers weigh implementing things like carbon pricing, incentives and emission caps. The group focused its study on European Union countries’ road emissions as transportation has historically been a prominent polluter that’s difficult to decarbonize.
The study identified 10 policies that stuck out in reducing emissions and it was almost always a specific mix of policies that yielded the best results.
Pretis said the most effective mix was a carrot-and-stick approach where people faced carbon taxes or something that increased the cost of driving, while they also got subsidies helping them switch to an electric vehicle or ones that made public transit more accessible.
Between 1995 and 2018, some European countries saw emission levels drop by up to 26 per cent. The average was about 10 to 15 per cent, which Pretis notes is no small feat. But some also saw no changes despite increasing their carbon price, which the researcher said was due to the hike being too small or being offset by another tax relief policy.
While carbon taxes can produce results, governments relying on them as their only emission intervention would have to set tax rates higher than what’s currently used by any country.
“An important takeaway is policy mixes seem to be effective, so you don’t want to just rely on a single avenue,” Pretis said.
The UVic economics professor said there was a lot of uncertainty around whether any policy intervention would get governments to net-zero emissions by mid-century.
The study’s findings are important because they show big greenhouse gas cuts are possible, Pretis said.
“Our results are kind of encouraging I think, there have been substantial policies that reduced emissions,” he said. “We want to emphasize that this is sort of a positive story and we’ve seen countries that have had success.”
Pretis has also published a similar analysis of B.C.’s carbon tax and found while it did result in a significant drop in transportation emissions, it hasn’t put a huge dent in overall GHGs.
He said other provinces stood out more by taking a command and control approach, where they shut down emission-intensive industries or switched over to hydroelectric power.
Pretis said B.C.’s tax was likely too low and added that their EU study emphasized that price increases in existing carbon tax schemes did have an impact on pollution. B.C. is currently committed to matching or exceeding the federal carbon tax backstop price, which in 2023 is set to rise by $15 a year to $170 per tonne of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
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