With the BC Provincial election less than a month away, the Government's existing carbon tax has stirred up quite a bit of controversy here. I won't get too deep into the politics of it, but if you are interested, I recommend that you check out ZeroCarbonCanada, which has some excellent coverage on the carbon tax from an environmentalists perspective.
While it may seem remarkable to see the broad coverage that the BC carbon tax is now receiving, from the recent editorial by the National Post to the New York Times, but it must be understood that BC's carbon tax is seen by many as a test market for the ability of regional governments (ie, Provincial or State) to impose direct climate change legislation, such as a carbon tax, rather than the more indirect cap and trade system. A carbon tax, because it is so easily understood compared to a cap and trade system, is also the more politically risky of the two. So, if the BC Government is not returned to the legislature on May 12, it will be viewed by many as a failure of its carbon tax legislation and you can be sure it will be a very long time before any government anywhere tries to introduce a carbon tax. Hence, the BC election is important for many reasons, especially with respect to climate change legislation.
Currently, the BC carbon tax is relatively mild, at $10 per tonne, but it will be increased each year for the next three years, to $30 per tonne on July 1, 2012. A good start, but not especially significant in terms of lifestyle changing. I think $200 per tonne would make that happen in a big way. Also, BC's carbon tax is "revenue neutral" meaning, the tax is offset by a reduction in taxes. It is expected to bring in revenues of $1.85 billion over three years. For some real bite, I would like to see the carbon tax revenues earmarked for GHG saving initiatives, like personal solar, home eco-energy retrofits or even the infrastructure required for electric cars.
While the underlying legislation exists in BC for a cap and trade system, it is not yet operating. And without regional cooperation, it would be entirely ineffective for British Columbia to go it alone with the market-based carbon trading system. This process is underway through the Western Climate Initiative, of which British Columbia is a partner. However, given the complexities of creating a brand new market-based commodity trading system through the myriad of bureaucracies, both north and south of the border, any regional or national cap and trade system would likely not be operating for another 3-5 years. I just can't imagine it getting done any sooner than that.
Politically, it may be easier to advocate cap and trade now, but practically, it is not easy to put this scheme into action. So, right now, the easiest way to encourage people to reduce their carbon use is a carbon tax. Ideally, 100% of the revenues generated by the carbon tax and, later, the cap and trade system in British Columbia, would go to funding research and development, and/or other incentives, for the clean tech and renewable energy industries in the Province. Only then, would there be some real economic (and job creating) benefit for industries which by their very nature are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And if that is the case, people just might not mind paying the tax.