rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Carbon pricing is like handwashing in a pandemic

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Image: Ella Ivanescu/Unsplash

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have repeated clear messages about handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing. These are relatively simple preventative measures to limit the virus's spread.

Responding to climate change isn't so simple, yet it's every bit as urgent. Although many paths can help steer us toward meeting our 2030 and 2050 climate commitments, evidence shows some policies are essential to the mix. They're the climate version of handwashing in a pandemic. One of these is putting a price on carbon to make polluters pay.

The Supreme Court of Canada is about to hear a case that references carbon pricing but speaks to bigger issues of constitutional jurisdiction and climate policy. It goes to the heart of how our country is tackling the climate crisis.

Three provinces led by conservative premiers asked their highest courts to rule on whether the federal government's Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, which requires provinces to put a price on carbon pollution or adhere to the federal carbon tax, exceeded federal authority. The federal government won its cases in Saskatchewan and Ontario's Courts of Appeal but lost in Alberta. All three provinces appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which will hear the case September 22-23.

Pollution doesn't stop at borders, and the greenhouse gases that go into the air of one province affect the entire country's ability to meet its Paris agreement commitments. People in Canada are among the highest per capita carbon emitters in the world, so we have a long way to go to tackle our fair share in the fight to address global heating. Provinces that do as little as possible on the climate front hurt us all.

As Canada makes choices on whether its economic recovery will be green and just, moving ahead with a carbon pricing requirement throughout the country makes even more sense. Those who pollute the most will help fund a green recovery.

Pricing carbon, along with removing fossil fuel subsidies, stimulates investment in low-carbon energy technologies that will lead the way to a decarbonized economy and a shift away from fossil fuels. It accelerates investments in green innovation, nature-based climate solutions, electrified public transit and electric vehicle charging networks.

Returning to "business as usual" and the myriad intractable problems and crises associated with it is not an option. Putting a price on carbon works. Emissions in B.C. would be up to 15 per cent higher if the province had not put its carbon tax in place in 2008, according to Canada's former ecofiscal commission. Meanwhile, B.C.'s real gross domestic product per capita between 2008 and 2015 increased by 6.4 per cent, compared to only 3.1 per cent in the rest of Canada.

In addition to the potential to drive deeper emissions reductions as carbon prices go up, evidence shows the policy helps change individual and business behaviours -- for the good of all. Carbon pricing has the added benefit of providing these outcomes at a lower economic cost than other policies. The pricing system is designed to be fair.

In provinces without their own carbon pricing, households under the federal system will receive more money in rebates than they pay in fuel charges, according to the parliamentary budget officer.

Large industry must also pay its fair share under the federal carbon tax. The policy rewards low-carbon innovation and, through "output-based allocations," ensures that producers from polluting countries don't have an advantage over our own industries when they export carbon-intensive products to Canada. As the former ecofiscal commission reported, "It allows Canada to put a price on carbon in vulnerable industrial sectors while other jurisdictions catch up on climate policy, and allows us to do so without undermining our economic prosperity."

Carbon pricing isn't the only climate policy needed at this time. But it is an essential one that must be part of the mix.

It's unimaginable to conceive of a pandemic response in which the federal government doesn't work closely with the provinces for the benefit of all people living here. The pandemic response taught us that being prepared, listening to science and acting decisively and early pays off. We must demand the same for our response to the climate crisis.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation communications and policy specialist Theresa Beer. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

Image: Ella Ivanescu/Unsplash​

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.