Friday, March 22, 2013

Wise Public Sector Spending Must Consider the Impacts of Climate Change

The following is from a letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star, in response to an article published in the Star by Sun Media's Lorne Gunter, “Anti-Keystone greens are an XL pain”, on March 20, 2013, and published as "Upfront climate costs must be part of development" on Wednesday, April 24, 2013.


Sun Media columnist Lorne Gunter wants you to believe that it is dangerous to assess climate change impacts when new development projects are being considered by governments. Gunter suggests that paying the costs for assessing the impacts of climate change will lead to a drop in living standards and a rise in government deficits. Gunter’s position is clearly not based on sound economics.

It is a generally accepted principle that where public investments occur, an appropriate cost/benefit analysis first be undertaken to demonstrate a project’s viability, and whether the project is ultimately in the public interest. A full range of impacts are assessed prior to authorizing new developments, and typically, projects which go forward are those which are cost effective and deliver a net public benefit. For elected governments, this kind of economic assessment is critical in order to show the public that its hard-earned tax dollars are being spent wisely.

For too long, the costs of greenhouse gas pollution have not been considered when new developments are proposed. However, this is gradually changing, as governments throughout the world and at all levels have begun to feel the economic effects of a changing climate. Here in Canada, the National Round Table on Environment and Energy has estimated the anticipated costs of climate change to be in the range of $5 billion annually in 2020, and maybe as much as $40 billion annually by 2050. In light of this economic reality, the impacts of carbon pollution from new development absolutely need to be a part of any cost/benefit analysis.

The upfront assessment of climate changing impacts on new development projects will lead to a preference for cleaner, greener, and ultimately less-costly development which is sustainable over the long term. For example, when climate change impacts are assessed for a proposed new transportation corridor, preference may be given to low-carbon, cost-effective rail over high-carbon truck traffic. While incorporating climate change impacts into assessments might not be good for big greenhouse gas emitters, in a low-carbon economy there will still be plenty of opportunities for businesses to create jobs, increase prosperity and provide a net benefit to communities.

Assessing the impacts of climate change prior to investing public funds is not something to be feared, as Gunter suggests. Instead, with scarce public resources available for development, it only makes sense to look at the complete range of costs prior to committing any public money. I don’t understand why Conservative Party shills like Gunter are afraid of assessments which seek to reduce overall costs to the public purse by spending taxpayer’s money more effectively. Of course, true conservatives understand the value of wise long-term investment.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

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